Monday, October 16, 2017
By Walter F. Roche Jr.
US Nitrogen has reported that it withdrew another 19.475 million gallons of water from the Nolichucky River for use at its Midway chemical manufacturing facility in September.
In a one-page report filed with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, the company reported withdrawing over 900,000 gallons from the Nolichucky on two days with less than 900,000 reported on all other days.
On two days, Sept. 25 and Sept. 28 the company drew no water from the river.
Water discharged back into the river in September totaled more than seven million gallons. On nine days during the month no water was discharged back to the river, That includes from Sept. 1 through Sept. 5.
The reports are required under the terms of one of US Nitrogen's state permits.
The company had reported drawing nearly exactly the same amount from the river in August. The report for July showed 14 million gallons were withdrawn.
Monday, October 9, 2017
By Walter F. Roche Jr.
Tennessee environmental officials have concluded that there was no damage from the April 19 release of nitric acid vapor from the US Nitrogen's Midway plant and any harm to residents was unlikely.
In a nine-page report, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation also said that under state and federal regulations US Nitrogen was not even required to report the incident because the amount of nitric acid released was well below the threshold triggering a reporting requirement.
The agency did say that it was referring one complaint from a local resident to the state Health Department.
In a letter to US Nitrogen accompanying the report, TDEC division director Michelle W. Owenby, said the agency was closing its investigation.
According to the report, about 424 pounds of nitric acid was released over a four minute period in the April incident caused by the rupture of a heat exchanger. However, it states the level that triggers a reporting requirement is 15,000 pounds.
"In the case of the April 19, 2017 incident, the amount released is below the reportable thresholds and USN reported the release incident even though it fell below the reporting levels as identified," the report states.
In addition the reporting requirement only applies to releases with a concentration of 80 per cent or more, but the nitric acid in use at US Nitrogen had a concentration of only 59 per cent, TDEC found.
"For reasons noted above, the division concludes that section 112(r) of the Clean Air Act is not applicable to the event on April 19, that involved nitric acid of 59 per cent concentration," the report continues.
Citing the fact that much of the land around the US Nitrogen plant is owned by the company or the Industrial Development Authority, TDEC concluded that "no serious environmental or health impacts likely occurred."
The report states that the closest school, West Greene High School is 1.9 miles away and the Mosheim Elementary School is 2.7 miles east of the plant. The closest business is about a quarter mile away.
The population density is very low in the area and the closest residences are nearly a half mile away, the report states. In addition the release occurred at 6 p.m. when "local schools would not be in session and most local businesses would have already closed for the day."
TDEC did note that a "vehicle reconnaissance" of the area showed evidence of old homes or residences located on the properties owned by US Nitrogen and the IDB.
As for the weather, TDEC said that the presence of rain showers at the time of the release "likely helped to mitigate the transport of any nitric acid emissions associated with the event."
TDEC did say that it received one complaint of "alleged health-related impacts associated with the event." The agency also received one anonymous call complaining of health related effects, but that caller chose not to file a formal complaint.
The one formal complaint is being referred to the state Health Department.
"Finally, the division does not believe any environmental damage occurred as a result of the April 19 incident," the report concludes.
Tuesday, October 3, 2017
By Walter F. Roche Jr.
BOSTON-The daughter of an outbreak victim whose death first alerted health officials to the fact that a growing public health tragedy was not limited to Tennessee, says her mother hoped her death would help others to survive.
Anna Allred testified for the prosecution in the racketeering and 2nd degree murder trial of Glenn Chin, who was a supervising pharmacist at the company blamed for the outbreak.
Alfred's mother, Elwina Shaw, was the first outbreak victim to be stricken who had not been injected with a fungus laden steroid at a Nashville clinic. Until her death in October of 2012, all the victims had been treated at the Saint Thomas Outpatient Neurosurgical Center.
Allred said her mother knew she would not survive but agreed to forego any treatment with pain or other medications which might make it more difficult for health professionals to figure out exactly what was sickening and killing a growing number of victims.
She said her mother became the 11th outbreak victim to die. That total would eventually climb to 76. They were among 778 patients sickened after being injected with methylprednisolone acetate from the now defunct New England Compounding Center.
"She insisted they do a spinal tap," Allred said, adding that her mother "became sick almost immediately" after getting the third in a series of injections at a High Point, N.C. pain clinic.
While the third shot made her sick, the first two provided no relief, Allred said.
She said the spinal tap showed a "very milky" spinal fluid, an indication of a severe infection.
One of her mother's last requests, Allred said, was that an autopsy be performed in hopes that the results would help the other victims.
In other testimony Tuesday, a Michigan Medical Examiner, Dr. Jeffrey Jentzen, provided details on the autopsies performed on 11 victims who were injected at a local pain clinic. He described how the fungus, exserohelium rostratum, penetrated a protective layer of the spine and then traveled to the brains of victims.
Once in the brain, he said the fungus, which "likes blood vessels," attacked them, rupturing some and blocking others. The results were strokes and other brain damage. In some cases the spinal chord itself was damaged.
Jentzen walked jurors through the cases his office handled including Donna Kruzich, Karina Baxter and Lyn LaPerriere. Chin has been charged with second degree murder in theirs and 22 other outbreak deaths.
Also testifying was a former NECC clean room worker, Derek Carvalho, who said that one of his fellow workers was acting as a registered pharmacy technician even though his registration had been revoked. He said the technician used the name and password of then NECC President Barry Cadden to sign into the company computer system.
Cadden is serving a nine year prison sentence following his conviction on racketeering and mail fraud charges.
In other testimony a medical examiner gave graphic details on the autopsies performed on nine of the victims.
Monday, October 2, 2017
By Walter F. Roche Jr.
BOSTON -Just months before a deadly outbreak swept across the country, the head of a drug compounding firm warned his supervising pharmacist that practices at their company were "a disaster waiting to happen. People can die."
The 2012 email from Barry J. Cadden to Glenn A. Chin was introduced into evidence today as Chin's federal trial on racketeering and second degree murder charges entered its third week.
U.S. Department of Defense Special Agent Sara Albert testified that the June 21 email along with more than a dozen others had been recovered from the records of the New England Compounding Center, where Cadden served as president. Some were also recovered from Chin's personal email.
She testified that other emails covered such topics as shipping drugs before testing, relabeling drugs to make it appear they had been tested, using expired ingredients and and shipping drugs that had never been tested at all.
Both Cadden and Chin were indicted along with a dozen others following a two year probe of the fungal meningitis outbreak which sickened 778 patients in more than 20 states. Seventy six of them died.
Cadden whose 10-week trial on similar racketeering and fraud charges ended in late March, already is serving a nine year prison sentence. He was acquitted on the second degree murder charges.
Albert also testified about a Chin resume retrieved during the investigation in which he claimed to be a supervising pharmacist at NECC since at least 2009. Chin's lawyers had challenged the assertion that he held that title.
In one email exchange Albert read to the jury, Chin informed Cadden that it was too late to give an employee another chance because he already had fired him.
"Too late. I just canned his ass," Chin wrote.
In a July 25, 2012 email, Cadden stated that there were tests that "we are not currently doing, but should be doing."
In the June 21 email and others Cadden expressed concerns about practices in NECC's two clean rooms where sterile injectable drugs were prepared under Chin's supervision.
In a 2011 email, which also was introduced in Cadden's trial, Cadden warned, "We can't get caught with our pants around our ankles...Ever."
"We can't do what you are currently doing any more. No exceptions," Cadden wrote in another email to Chin.
In other testimony a Michigan pain doctor described how the outbreak unfolded at the clinics where he had administered injections of NECC's methylprednisolone acetate into the spines and joints of patients.
Dr. Edward Washabaugh of Michigan Pain Specialists described how one victim was stricken just after arriving in London and had to be sent back home. By the time she arrived she had suffered a devastating stroke Washabaugh said.
Even worse were the side effects of powerful antifungal medications victims were forced to take, he said. He said the overall impact caused patients to die from heart attacks and other seemingly unrelated ailments.
He said 19 of the clinics patiens died. Five of them were his.
Anita Baxter, the daughter of a Michigan victim, said her mother suffered a massive stroke and doctors said she was clinically dead.
"It was horrible" she said recalling the scene in her mother's last hours.
Her mother had told her, "I don't want to be a vegetable," so she agreed to end life support. She said her mother had also directed that her body be donated for medical research and, as a result, the cause of her death was eventually determined.
Sunday, October 1, 2017
By Walter F. Roche Jr.
Officials of US Nitrogen have filed a report with the state disclosing that an early August incident forced a shutdown of its Green County ammonia plant.
Calling it a "process upset," US Nitrogen's manager Andrew Velo wrote that the incident resulted in three abnormal flare events "which led to an operating shutdown."
In a letter to Michelle Owenby, the manager of air pollution programs at the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, Velo said that the incident triggered an internal investigation to determine the root cause.
According to the letter, as a result of the investigation some equipment had to be replaced and extensive staff training was implemented. Still further training may yet be required.
The incident is the latest in a series of start up misfires that have triggered concern among some area residents.
Velo wrote that the internal investigation found that liquid carryover from an ammonia liquid let-down vessel led to the incident when the ammonia combined with water to form excess levels of aqua-ammonia, triggering the flare events.
"This level resulted in heavy flare events during plant pressure variations. The investigation team determined that uncertainty in interpreting the fault state of the level indication on D-7 and the subsequent operational response due to this uncertainty were the main root causes of this incident," Velo's letter states.
The plant manager said the investigative team determined that some changes including the replacement of some equipment had to be completed before the plant could be restarted.
He listed a series of actions, including retesting of all let-down vessels "to verify functionality and reliability, and replacement of a pressure valve.
Velo said all recommended steps were taken before start up and that the plant has operated without incident since the re-start. He did not disclose the date of the start up.
"Several long term actions related to training and operating procedures have been identified and will be completed in the coming months," the letter concludes.
Thursday, September 28, 2017
By Walter F. Roche Jr.
Tennessee environmental officials have imposed a $1,500 fine on Greene' County's US Nitrogen LLC for violating provisions of one of its air pollution permits multiple times last year.
In a seven-page order issued this week, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation said that the violations occurred on two days in late October and one day in early December when the company was trying to start its nitric acid plant.
According to the violation notice, an amended permit originally issued to US Nitrogen in early 2012 required that the company limit to 15 the number of burners operating on its two ammonia trains during start-up efforts. The order was signed by TDEC Technical Secretary Michelle Walker Owenby.
The limit on burners was imposed after it was learned that US Nitrogen did not yet have a Selective Catalytic Converter in full operation, a requirement under the original permit for the anhydrous ammonia production plant.
The limits were set to ensure the plant did not exceed nitrous oxide emission limits, according to the TDEC notice.
The complain states that between 16 and 24 burners were in operation on Oct. 23, Oct. 24 and Dec. 2 of last year during three startup efforts.
Although the new notice states that TDEC can impose fine of up to $25,000 a day for such violations, it set the US Nitrogen fine at $1,500.
TDEC had issued a notice last month indicating it was proposing to take action on the violations, but did not disclose a proposed fine.
TDEC previously issued two permit violation notices to US Nitrogen for other permit violations, including failure to meet a testing deadline on its nitric acid plant. It imposed fines totaling $19,000.
Friday, September 1, 2017
By Walter F. Roche Jr.
Tennessee environmental officials have effectively dismissed two recent complaints about excessive emissions from a chemical manufacturer, concluding that the company did not violate its permits.
In letters to two local residents, Amanda Davis, a manager in the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, wrote that agency officials made an unannounced visit to US Nitrogen's Greene County facility and found no evidence of excess emissions.
The visit was on Aug. 16.
In the letters to area resident Sherry Arnold and Park Overall the TDEC official said "no visible emissions were observed" during the visit to the Midway plant.
"Additionally on site records did not indicate any excess emissions," the letters state.
Both letters from Davis were dated Aug. 31.
The two area residents had complained that orange clouds were emitted from the site where ammonium nitrate is produced for later use in explosives.
The letters also charged that the excess emissions were causing breathing problems.