Saturday, March 17, 2018

US Nitrogen Responds to Violations Notice

By Walter F. Roche Jr.

A Greene County chemical company has responded to some but not nearly all of a series of issues raised by state environmental following an inspection of the facility.

In an eight-page letter sent to the state this week US Nitrogen Plant Manager Andrew Velo also provided copies of several of  the company's Standard Operating Procedures and a timetable for implementing changes.

In response to seven specific issues however, Velo repeated his request for a meeting with officials of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.

The responses are the latest volley in a battle of words between TDEC officials and US Nitrogen over the critical compliance inspection report. In its initial response US Nitrogen denied that the inspection had actually turned up any evidence that the company was in violation of any of its permits.

TDEC responded by stating that there were indeed permit violations.

TDEC Manager Chris Rhodes wrote that "any failure to comply with permit requirements is a violation."

In its latest response US Nitrogen agreed to provide TDEC with documents relating to a new emulsion facility and the emulsion product being produced but said it had not yet decided whether to produce another new product, aqueous ammonia.

"If US Nitrogen decides to produce AN-20, we will notify the division before production," the letter states.

As for alterations in a retention pond that TDEC had questioned, Velo described changes as minor modifications but also provided a water flow schematic requested by the state.

But for a series of questions raised by TDEC, Velo wrote, "US Nitrogen requests a meeting with division personnel regarding regulatory reporting to ensure complete understanding of protocols going forward."

Velo added, "US Nitrogen would like to thank TDEC for clarifying that US Nitrogen did not impact Nolichucky River water quality."

In its initial inspection report, TDEC had stated that both upstream and downstream readings in the river showed a failure to meet target standards.

"Thus both stations showed some impact to water quality," the report stated.

The report did not attribute the negative impact to US Nitrogen or any other party, though some published reports drew that conclusion.

In other responses, US Nitrogen agreed to "re-evaluate" the drainage within a drainage basin "to confirm that there is no discrete conveyance of storm water within facility boundaries."

Velo also told TDEC the company was revising its sludge management plan and promised to provide a copy of that plan by July 31. But he wrote that the company was unable to locate past transformer inspection reports requested by the state.

"Improvements have been implemented to maintain transformer inspection reports," the letter concludes.


Friday, March 16, 2018

TDEC Seeks Answer on US Nitrogen Permit

By Walter F. Roche Jr.

Tennessee environmental officials are seeking detailed data before acting on US Nitrogen's request to renew a key permit for its Greene County chemical manufacturing facility.
In a 12-page letter, including a three-page attachment, a deputy director for the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation has asked the ammonium nitrate manufacturer to respond to the more than a dozen questions within 60 days. The renewal application was submitted on June 9 of last year but the company subsequently submitted several amendments.
Questions posed by Deputy Director James P. Johnson include backup data for calculations of carbon dioxide produced in the process of producing anhydrous ammonia.
Other data requested includes the amount of nitrous dioxide emissions produced in the two pieces of equipment, known as trains, used to produce ammonia.
The letter notes that US Nitrogen's actual production rate for nitric acid appears to be far below the limit set in its permit.
Johnson also wrote that an on site review at the Midway facility raised questions about whether storage tanks on the site were properly permitted.
"During the Feb. 21 site visit we discussed the possibility that some of the storage tanks at the facility may not be properly permitted," the letter states, adding that state rules set specific limits on the level of emissions permissible for a permit exemption.
"US Nitrogen should submit forms and calculations, as requested below, in order to document that the tanks do not need to be permitted," Johnson wrote
Other questions raised in the letter include the ammonia injection rates used during performance tests and the test reports on the volume of volatile organic compound emissions.
The questions come amid an ongoing dispute between the company and TDEC over the findings in a nearly month long site visit by TDEC officials.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

US Nitrogen Pipeline Challenge Heating Up

By Walter F. Roche Jr.

A lawsuit challenging the legality of two controversial Greene County pipelines to the Nolichucky River is heating up as landowners are seeking to gather additional evidence that a permit issued by the state was illegal.
The suit filed in Davidson County Chancery Court was first tossed out by one judge but then revived on appeal. It is now before Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle, who has ruled that she will decide the latest issue without hearing oral arguments.
The landowners, including Don Bible, Ann Calfee and Jack Renner, charge that the Tennessee Department of Transportation unlawfully granted the permit to US Nitrogen and the Industrial Development Board of Greeneville and Greene County.
In the motion filed recently the landowners are asking Lyle to allow them to amend their complaint for the third time to raise the issue of whether the two 13 mile pipelines were installed on a lawful right of way, a requirement under state law.
Lawyers for the defendants are opposing the landowners' motion.The case is not scheduled for actual trial until Oct. 22.
The motion states the amendment will enable the landowners to determine "whether a lawful right of way exists" or "whether the pipelines were unlawfully installed on private property."
The motion states that US Nitrogen refused to answer questions about how the right of way was determined while TDOT claimed it was not their responsibility.
"Water quality is relevant to standing for the riverfront owners," the motion states, noting there were recent disclosures of an impact on water quality both above and below where the pipelines reach into the Nolichucky.
"Respondents were not allowed to use the permit until a lawful right of way was established," the motion continues. "They did it anyway."
A copy of the proposed amended complaint states that the pipelines "were forcibly installed with armed guards in willful disregard" of an agreed order in a separate but related case.
The pipelines are being used to pump water from the Nolichucky for use in the manufacture of ammonium nitrate solution, which is then shipped to US Nitrogen's parent, Austin Powder, for use in making explosives.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

TDEC Reasserts US Nitrogen Violations

By Walter F. Roche Jr.

Tennessee environment officials say US Nitrogen did indeed violate multiple provisions of their permits and the company's response to the recent notice of violations did not fully address the citations.
In a 15-page point-by-point letter, an environmental manager at the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, said the ammonium nitrate manufacturer must submit a revised response and an implementation plan by March 14.
"US Nitrogen failed to produce all applicable documentation or provided documentation that was illegible," the letter to US Nitrogen Plant Manager Andrew Velo states.
Chris Rhodes, TDEC's environmental manager, said in the letter that US Nitrogen also must submit copies of a number of documents that were requested during the nearly one month long inspection of the Greene County facility.
While US Nitrogen had argued that some of the items included in the original inspection report were not really violations, Rhodes wrote that "any failure to comply with permit requirements is a violation."
TDEC did acknowledge typographical errors in its original report and agreed that an "operational mishap" at the Midway facility occurred in 2017, not 2016.
One of the items noted by Rhodes was the observation that US Nitrogen's own data on the biological impact of the company operations showed that both upstream and downstream readings on the Nolichucky River showed a failure to meet the target standards.
"Thus both stations showed some impact to water quality," the letter dated Feb. 27 states.
US Nitrogen, under one of its permits, draws millions of gallons of water from the Nolichucky for use in its manufacturing processes. The impact on the river has been one of the primary concerns of some local citizens opposed to the US Nitrogen project.
Rhodes letter came in response to a 25-page letter from Velo in which he disputed many of the findings in the TDEC inspection report which followed an on-site inspection ending on Nov. 15 of last year.
Later in the letter Rhodes noted that "the US Nitrogen facility is in close proximity to wetland areas and other water bodies" so spills must be reported.
Other points in the Rhodes letter, which was dated today (Feb. 27), include the failure of the company to perform checks on water flow meters at least once a year and the failure to even follow the company's own Standard Operating Procedures.
Some of those SOPs, the letter states, were inadequate to begin with.
Rhodes's letter also questions why the company says it needs some six months to complete various corrective action plans. The letter calls some of the company responses "confusing."
"Facility SOPs must accurately reflect appropriate reporting procedures," Rhodes wrote, adding that related documents requested during the inspection were not provided.
TDEC also asked US Nitrogen re-evaluate a drainage area during storm conditions "to ensure no discrete conveyance for storm-water existed. Rhodes added that the claim by the company that related data was the most current available was "fallacious."
Still other deficiencies included missing records and the failure to provide certifications and signatures of company officials on those certifications.
Along with a corrective action plan and a schedule to implement corrections, the letter instructs US Nitrogen to submit a copy of its Storm Water Pollution Prevention Plan.

Friday, February 16, 2018

US Nitrogen Activity Dived in January

By Walter F. Roche Jr.

Use of the Nolichucky River by Greene County's US Nitrogen dropped considerably in January, according to a report filed this week with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.
The monthly report, which is required under the chemical company's state permit, shows that on 14 days during the month no water was pumped out of the Nolichucky for use in the production of ammonium nitrate.
The report shows no water usage from Jan. 1 to Jan. 7, from Jan 12 to 15 and from Jan. 22 to Jan. 24.
The report shows that the company discharged no water in to the river on 22 days of the month.
Overall US Nitrogen pumped 8.9 million gallons from the river during the month while discharging a total of 4.2 million back in to the Nolichucky.
The January report is in sharp contrast to the December report. During that month the company pumped a record 38.78 million gallons from the Nolichucky while discharging 5.8 million back into the waterway.

Greeneville Water Fined For Violations

By Walter F. Roche Jr

The Greeneville Water Commission has been fined $77,350 for a series of violations at the Denzil Bowman Wastewater Treatment Plant, according to the state Department of Environment and Conservation.
A consent order posted on the DEP web site states that multiple violations occurred between Jan. 1, 2015 and Sept. 30, 2017. The violations involved effluent limits and pretreatment requirements, according to the notice.
Under the consent agreement the water commission must pay an upfront fine of $11,644. The remainder, called a contingent penalty of $65,981, will come due if the commission fails to make a series of improvements by agreed deadlines. They include the installation of an ultraviolet disinfection system and submission of a series of reports on the progress of the other improvements.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

US Nitrogen Disputes State Inspection Report

By Walter F. Roche Jr.

Officials of a Greene County chemical company are disputing major elements of a detailed state compliance report that found the firm in violation of its permits and state and federal environmental requirements.
In a 25-page response filed with the state Department of Environment and Conservation, Andrew Velo, a manager for US Nitrogen, said the company does not believe any of the items listed in a recent state review "constitute violations of any statutory regulations or permits."
Though the response does acknowledge a number of changes, including the replacement of some equipment and new preventative maintenance procedures, Velo's letter questions the basis for many of the conclusions in the recent state report.
"The report consistently fails to identify the specific applicable statutory, regulatory or permit requirements that were allegedly violated," Velo wrote.
Velo, who is plant manager of the Midway facility, called on TDEC for a meeting for "a frank and open discussion regarding the division's relationship with US Nitrogen and the report specifically."
In addition to denying he made statements attributed to him in the report, Velo said TDEC even had the wrong date for a so-called "operational incident" that the TDEC report states should have been reported to the state agency.
Stating that the incident occurred in early 2017 and not 2016 as TDEC claimed, Velo said the incident was "a minor operational issue" not requiring state notification. According to the state compliance report, the incident resulted in the contamination of the company's steam system.
Velo also disputed the TDEC claim that the company had made operational changes that required amendments to its permit.
The company "has not made any operational or physical changes" requiring permit modification, Velo wrote. He also said that discharges to the Nolichucky River were well within permit limits.
Other items Velo disputed included the requirement for the annual calibration of equipment measuring temperatures, water use and discharge.
In the letter Velo did state that the company had changed several of its standard operating procedures in response to questions raised by the two state inspectors.
But Velo even questioned how long the two inspectors were at US Nitrogen, stating that they were only there for 10 days not the full month indicated in the state report.
In calling for a meeting with TDEC officials, Velo wrote, "US Nitrogen is now and has been consistently in compliance with our permit requirements, so that our discharges are protective of human health, downstream fish and aquatic life and water quality."
"Protection of human health and the environment is of utmost importance to US Nitrogen and we are proud of our environmental and safety record," he concluded.