Port of Providence Chemical Company Cited for Safety Violations
January 10, 2023
PROVIDENCE — A global chemical distributor with two facilities along the city’s waterfront will pay $600,000 in fines and at least $200,000 for emergency response equipment for violating federal chemical safety protocols.
The recent consent agreement between the Environmental Protection Agency and Univar Solutions Inc. comes after allegations that the Illinois-based corporation failed to follow industrial accident-prevention requirements in the federal Clean Air Act, putting neighborhoods, including some in Providence, at higher risk.
In total, five Univar facilities in three states — two in Rhode Island, two in Pennsylvania, and one in Colorado — were cited. Four of the five facilities, including the two in Providence, are in overburdened communities with environmental justice concerns, according to the EPA.
Univar’s waterfront facility in ProvPort has a 14-mile hazard radius — the area that would need to be evacuated in the case of an accident at the plant — because some 3 million pounds of chemicals, such as ammonium, chlorine, and formaldehyde, are stored there, according to the EPA.
The federal agency claimed Univar failed to comply with industry standards of care for chemicals such as anhydrous ammonia, aqueous ammonia, chlorine, formaldehyde, and isopropanol at facilities in Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, and Colorado.
The EPA’s violations stem from November 2019 inspections at Univar’s local facilities: its chemical blending, packaging, and distribution facility on Harborside Boulevard and its chemical storage warehouse and distribution and shipping facility on Terminal Road.
The agency listed 22 violations associated with the two Providence facilities, including failing to properly label chlorine and ammonia pipes; failing to label above-ground storage tanks; failing to meet its general duty to design and maintain a safe facility, including taking steps necessary to prevent chemical releases; and failing to store incompatible chemicals properly by storing them next to one another in the flammable storage area, in the aboveground storage tank farm next to the acid shed, and in the truck maintenance area.
Among the chemicals that shouldn’t have been stored next to each other, according to the EPA, were nitric acid next to potassium permanganate, ammonium persulfate, and hydrogen peroxide and sulfuric acid next to potassium hydroxide and ammonium hydroxide.
The company will pay $600,000 in penalties and spend at least $200,000 for emergency response equipment for fire departments in Pennsylvania and Colorado. The consent order also requires Univar to implement safety measures at the five facilities, according to the EPA.
Univar is one of 12 tenants of ProvPort Inc., a nonprofit entity within the greater Port of Providence. The City Council has been working on a long-term lease and tax deal extension with ProvPort. Concerned residents in the neighborhoods of Washington Park and South Providence and local environmental groups have claimed the deal was rushed through without proper scrutiny.
Late last year the City Council gave early approval for the extensions, but they still need to be approved again this year by the newly seated council before the deal becomes law.
Univar, headquartered in Downers Grove, Ill., has several hundred chemical distribution facilities that blend, mix, and package bulk chemicals for shipment across the United States and the world.