Chemical Distributor Faces up to $576,000 in Penalties after Kansas City Explosion

Chemcentral, a Chicago-based distributor of industrial chemicals, faces combined fines of almost $576,000 from EPA, OSHA, and the Missouri Department of Natural Resources in the wake of a February explosion at its plant in the East Bottoms area of Kansas City. EPA Region 7 has proposed the largest percentage ($434,260) of the total penalty for failing to notify emergency responders that an "extremely hazardous" chemical was on site before the explosion and for failing to design and maintain a safe facility for its chemicals, federal officials said Tuesday.

Last week, OSHA proposed separate penalties of up to $126,000 for violations that endangered the lives of employees, such as failing to heed manufacturers' warnings regarding the storage and handling of polybutene, a fuel additive under the trade name Indopol used in sealants, coatings, lubricants, and adhesives. The Feb. 7 explosion destroyed East Bottoms plant and sent hundreds of thousands of gallons in chemicals up in smoke. Authorities say that polybutene being poured from one container to another sparked the incident. Two workers were injured.

EPA's complaint says Chemcentral violated the Clean Air Act by failing to report chemical hazards, specifically Indopol or polybutene, and that the company violated the Emergency Planning and Community Right To Know Act by failing to submit a chemical inventory form for 2006 by March 1, 2007. Federal and state laws require that companies provide detailed information about the chemicals they handle and store. Under federal law, the complaint said, a company needs to file the reports about chemicals that could be considered an "extremely hazardous substance" with the local fire department, Local Emergency Planning Committee and State Emergency Response Commission. A list on file and available to emergency responders did not include Indopol, according to the EPA complaint. The updated inventory showed that Chemcentral had more than 10,000 pounds of Indopol on site at one time and failed to report it, the complaint said.

The Missouri Department of Natural Resources has sent Chemcentral a bill for $15,720 to recover the cost of the work its environmental emergency response team did. In addition, Chemcentral has agreed to enter the state's cooperative program. That means the company will conduct sampling of soil and water, clean up the site and pay expenses incurred by the Natural Resources Department for oversight of its work.

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