Wednesday, December 6, 2017

US Nitrogen Seeks Permit Extension

By Walter F. Roche Jr.

US Nitrogen is asking Tennessee officials for a six month extension on a construction permit for a new carbon dioxide liquefaction facility that is slated for use by a separate company.
In a letter sent this week to an official of the state Department of Environment and Conservation, US Nitrogen Plant Manager Andrew Velo said that while the facility is "almost complete," additional time may be necessary. The current permit expires at the end of the calendar year.
Velo said that a startup is expected before Dec. 31 but additional time could be needed for start-up and to confirm operations are as expected following start-up."
The liquefaction facility will be used by Praxair, a company that sells carbon dioxide to beverage and other users. The extension, if approved, would run till June 30 of next year.
The request is the second sought by US Nitrogen following a critical inspection report issued by TDEC officials. Earlier this week the company also sought a ninth amendment to a permit for a flare system used in the production of ammonium nitrate, the Greene County company's primary product.
The inspection report was the result of a nearly month-long on-site inspection of the Midway manufacturing operation.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

US Nitrogen Seeks Flare Permit Change

By Walter F. Roche Jr.

On the heels of a violation notice from Tennessee environmental officials, US Nitrogen is seeking  approval for yet another change in one of its permits for the Greene County ammonium nitrate manufacturing facility.
In a three-page letter to the Department of Environment and Conservation US Nitrogen is asking for a change in the permit issued for three flares used to vent gas emissions. In the letter, US Nitrogen Plant Manager Andrew Velo states that the changes would actually result in a decrease in emissions.
'This amendment affects all three flares covered by the open flares permit," Velo wrote in the Dec. 4 letter.
The amendment request was filed just days after TDEC issued a notice of violation to the company following a nearly one month inspection of the Midway operation.
Velo states that two of the flares are located at the two existing ammonia plants, while a third is "outside the battery limits."
The amendments would change the maximum heat capacities and result in an "overall reduction of emissions," according to the letter.
The amendment would also change the gas streams vented to each flare.
The request, the letter continues, is based on the assumption that 98 percent of the ammonia will be converted to elemental nitrogen and water. One percent will remain unconverted and one percent will convert to NO/NO2, according to the Velo letter.
The 16-page notice of violation was issued late last week and it requires the company to file a schedule for completion of needed changes by Jan. 10. The letter faults the company for not informing the state of a change in production and for not reporting "an operational mishap" that caused contamination of the steam system.

Monday, December 4, 2017

State Inspection Cites Multiple USN Deficiencies

By Walter F. Roche Jr.

A nearly month long inspection of US Nitrogen's sprawling Greene County facilities has turned up numerous deficiencies in meeting state permit requirements including the failure to inform the state of changes in production and an apparent mishap.
In a 16-page letter to US Nitrogen's plant manager, Andrew Velo, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation said a proposed corrective action plan must be filed with the agency by Jan. 10, along with a schedule for completion of need changes.
According to the letter from, Chris Rhodes, TDEC's Water Resources Division Manager, the on site inspection began on Oct. 17 and was completed Nov. 15. Two TDEC officials led the review but an official from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was also on hand.
As Rhodes noted some of the same deficiencies were noted in an earlier inspection. In addition to the long list of deficiencies, the letter cites other observations which could lead to future deficiencies.
The state cited the company for failing to inform TDEC of either changes in manufacturing operations or apparent deficiencies.
"Facilities for production of an ammonium nitrate solution-fuel emulsion  were in place and operating. Plans to produce aqueous ammonia and a fertilizer product referred to as AN-20 were underway," the letter states, adding that on site facilities for Praxair, a separate company, were nearing completion.
"Changes to products produced at the site may impact the applicable (NPDES) permit limitations for facility discharges," the letter warns.
Also cited were apparent changes in the use of a retention pond.
"The division hereby requests updated information detailing all production facilities, associated products and retention pond operation in place or planned for the future in order to evaluate whether changes to the (NPDES) permit are needed," the letter continues.
The on site review also turned up evidence of an "operational mishap" in early 2016 which resulted in the contamination of the steam system by an ammonium nitrate solution. The letter states that the company attempted to eliminate the contamination by flushing the system.
"Note that this type of situation should be reported to the division so that any need for permit modification can be evaluated and to provide division staff an opportunity for technical support," the letter states.
Other deficiencies cited included failure to verify meter calibrations on an annual basis, failure to record and verify thermometer readings and failure of some employees to sign reports.
TDEC also faulted the company for not notifying the state about spills on the property.
"US Nitrogen must take care to ensure that appropriate spill notifications are being made to the Division of Water Resources and/or other TDEC divisions as necessary," the letter states.
Training certification was missing for one employee and employee signatures on other training records were illegible, the inspectors found. Finally, the report states,  the company had listed the wrong TDEC officials as the contacts for various state permits.
The 23-page report faults the company for not notifying TDEC of changes in the product production and failing to report a 2016 "operational mishap" that caused contamination of the steam system.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Three Chemicals Exceed Limits at USN

By Walter F. Roche Jr.

Storm water runoff from the US Nitrogen site in Greene County exceeded benchmarks for three different pollutants, with one exceeding that limit by a factor of 12, according to a report filed today with Tennessee officials.
The report, required on an annual basis by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, showed the excesses were recorded at two different monitoring sites in the sprawling US Nitrogen complex. The chemicals identified were magnesium, nitrogen and aluminum.
The report dated Thursday marks the third year in a row that benchmark levels have been exceeded by the chemical manufacturing company.
In a letter accompanying the report, US Nitrogen Plant Manager Andrew Velo said the cause of the excesses was not known but "we suspect the source of the magnesium and aluminum detected in the storm water samples is from concentrations and/or form water flowing across rock."
He also noted that one of the monitoring sites was located in a "non-process area of the facility" that gets runoff from maintenance buildings.
The report states that magnesium levels at one of the monitoring points was 7.91 milligrams per liter compared to the benchmark of 0.0636 milligrams per liter.
Nitrogen and nitrite concentrations were reported at 1.33 milligrams per liter compared to the benchmark concentration of 0.68 milligrams per liter.
Aluminum levels were 3.58 milligrams per liter compared to the 0.75 milligrams per liter benchmark.
Velo stated that concentrations exceeding the benchmark level have been recorded elsewhere in the area in the Nolichucky River and other surface waters.
He also stated that nitrogen was present in fertilizer used on the company site "to encourage vegetative growth and prevent soil erosion."

Monday, November 27, 2017

TDEC Discounts US Nitrogen Complaints

By Walter F. Roche Jr.

Tennessee environmental officials are discounting reports of possible explosions last month at US Nitrogen's Midway manufacturing facility.
In an email dated today Ronald B. Wilhoit, an inspector for the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, told one Midway resident that loud noises heard on Oct. 4 were likely the result of a high pressure steam valve that released "a handful of times" that day.
Citing information provided by US Nitrogen's plant manager, Ronald Velo, Wilhoit wrote that those releases were "likely the noise that people reported hearing."
Wilhoit said US Nitrogen did acknowledge there was "a component failure" causing the nitric acid plant to "trip" on that day.
Wilhoit said in an email to the local resident that he also checked the company's continuous emission monitoring data at the nitric acid plant for the day in question and "there were no violations of their short term emission limits for nitrogen oxides."
Similar responses have been issued by TDEC to other area residents over the past few weeks.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

US Nitrogen Draws 14.6 Million Nolichucky Gallons

By Walter F. Roche Jr.

US Nitrogen, the Greene County chemical firm, pumped 14.6 million gallons of  water from the Nolichucky River in October and on a single day withdrew a little over 1 million.
A report filed this week with the state Department of  Environment and Conservation also shows the company pumped a little over 9 million gallons back into the river. US Nitrogen is required to file the monthly reports under the terms of one its state permits.
According to the report submitted by Plant Manager Andrew Velo the company pumped a little over one million gallons on Oct. 19. The water is pumped through a 12 mile pipeline from the Midway plant to the river.
On three days during the month, Oct. 23, Oct. 26 and Oct. 29 no water was drawn from the river. Likewise no water was pumped back into the river on those same days.
In September the company withdrew nearly the same amount from the Nolichucky and returned seven million gallons to the river.
The use of the river water has been one of the most controversial aspects of US Nitrogen's operation in Eastern Tennessee. Initially the company had indicated it would purchase water from the local utility district.
The permit allowing construction of the pipeline has been challenged in a suit pending in Chancery Court in Nashville. A new judge was assigned to hear that case earlier this week.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

New Judge Named in US Nitrogen Suit

By Walter F. Roche Jr.

A new judge has been assigned to hear the case brought by a group of Eastern Tennessee residents challenging the legality of a permit issued by the state to a major ammonium nitrate manufacturer.
Records in Chancery Court in Nashville show Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle has been assigned to hear the challenge to the permit issued  by the Tennessee Department of Transportation to US Nitrogen and the Industrial Development Board of Greeneville and Greene County.
The case was sent back to the Nashville court after an appeals court overturned a decision by Chancellor Claudia Bonnyman. She had thrown out the suit on the grounds that the landowners lacked standing to challenge the permit.
The permit enabled the construction of a pipeline from US Nitrogen's Midway facility to the Nolichucky River. The company uses the pipeline to draw water from the river for use in its manufacturing processes.
Bonnyman recused herself from the case on Oct. 5 after the Appeals Court overturned virtually all of her findings in an 18-page decision issued in July.