Thursday, September 15, 2016

US Nitrogen Reports Monthly River Discharge, Probe Continues

By Walter F. Roche Jr.

US Nitrogen reported discharging a little under 1.2 million gallons of water into the Nolichucky River in August, according to data filed with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.
The report comes as the Midway manufacturing firm continues efforts to bring its $200 million facility into full operation.
State and federal officials are currently investigating multiple emissions incidents which occurred in the attempted startup of a nitric acid production facility. The excess emissions produced a thick orange cloud that hung over the 500-acre US Nitrogen site on Aug. 23.
Kelly Brockman, spokeswoman for the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, said the investigation was continuing and officials are awaiting the submission of a written report on the incidents from US Nitrogen.
According to the monthly report water was discharged into the Nolichucky on Aug. 18 and Aug. 21.
The company withdrew only 8,000 gallons from the river on Aug. 12, the report states.
The water is withdrawn and discharged to the river through some 12 miles of pipeline stretching from the Midway plant to the Nolichucky.
In July the company reported withdrawing about two million gallons from the river and discharging about 62,652 gallons back into the Nolichucky.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Notice of Appeal Filed by Landowners

By Walter F. Roche Jr.

Six Eastern Tennessee residents who live along the Nolichucky River have filed formal notice that they will appeal the dismissal of a suit they filed challenging the legality of a permit issued for a controversial 12-mile pipeline to the river.
In a notice filed in Davidson Chancery Court in Nashville, the attorney for the residents, said the decision will be appealed to the state Court of Appeals.
The appeal follows the dismissal of the suit filed by local residents who argued that the Tennessee Department of Transportation did not have the legal authority to issue a permit to any entity other than a public utility.
Judge Claudia Bonnyman, however, ruled that the residents did not have legal standing to challenge the permit. She also rejected a subsequent motion for reconsideration filed by Nashville attorney Elizabeth Murphy.
The pipeline is being utilized by US Nitrogen which is using water from the Nolichucky in its manufacturing process.
Plaintiffs in the case are Ann Calfee, Richard Wisecarver, Robert Sapp, Ruth Dolan, Jeremiah Cluesman and Reuben Stone.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

State Urged Use of "Innocuous Gases" to Avoid Emissions Risk

By Walter F. Roche Jr.

In a Sept. 2 letter to US Nitrogen a Tennessee environmental official encouraged the company to use harmless gases to test whether repair efforts on the $200 million facility had been successful.
"To the extent practicable, we encourage US Nitrogen to test the efficacy of repairs with innocuous gases prior to introducing process gas on a production basis," Michelle W. Owenby wrote in the letter to US Nitrogen Plant Manager Andrew W. Velo.
Use of nonlethal gases would reduce or eliminate the risk of any harmful gases being released to the atmosphere.
The encouragement apparently came too late as US Nitrogen already had begun restarting its nitric acid production plant using the normal process, according to a letter Velo had sent to the state Department of Environment and Conservation the very same day.
Owenby, director of TDEC's division of air pollution control, offered the encouragement in a two-page letter in which she asked Velo to provide a detailed report on the incidents of Aug. 23, which produced an orange cloud of nitric oxide and nitrous dioxide that loomed over the 500 acre US Nitrogen site.
Owenby also asked for the results of US Nitrogen's own investigation of the incident and remedial actions taken to prevent a recurrence.
"Please provide information regarding any startup attempts subsequent to Aug. 23 and the result of those attempts," the letter continued, adding that the information was being requested as part of TDEC's ongoing investigation of the Aug. 23 incident.
She said that investigation would also be looking at "any other excess emissions that have occurred as part of the startup of the nitric acid plant."
TDEC also has asked the Greene County company to provide copies of any startup, shutdown and malfunction logs associated with the nitric acid plant from April 29, 2016 to the present."
As reported previously Velo wrote to Owenby, also on Sept. 2, to report that the equipment malfunction. a sticking valve, had been pinpointed as the cause of the excess emissions and production resumed on Aug. 31.
"The startup went well, as the plant started up correctly with the pressure in the plant as expected," Velo wrote.
He did note however, that an attempted startup on Aug. 29 had to be aborted after less than 20 minutes "because an additional issue with an instrument was identified."
In his letter Velo also has asked TDEC for an extension in deadlines for performing tests and providing emissions data over a 30 day period of continuous operation of the nitric acid plant.
Due to startup delays Velo wrote that it would be impossible for the company to meet the existing deadlines.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

US Nitrogen Says Equipment Failures Caused Excess Emissions

By Walter F. Roche Jr.

Officials of US Nitrogen say a valve stuck in an open position led to two incidents of excess emissions during the recent attempted startup of a nitric acid plant on its 500 acre Greene County site.
In a four-page letter to Tennessee environmental officials US Nitrogen Plant Manager Andrew Velo said the company also "experienced several nitric acid plant process and equipment issues" one of which necessitated "a full rebuild of a portion of the plant's compressor train."
The details were included in a letter in which Velo is requesting waivers and extensions of existing deadlines for completing testing and mandatory reporting requirements.
Citing the equipment problems, Velo said it would be impossible for the company to collect the required monitoring data by the existing deadlines.
He also disclosed that after the failed startup on Aug. 23, a second attempted start up on Aug. 29 was aborted after only 20 minutes "because an additional issue with an instrument was identified."
As for the Aug. 23 incidents, Velo wrote, "Analysis of the process issues ... pointed to a valve that was not operating correctly. The valve was sticking open, causing the plant to not build pressure in the system as intended."
The Aug. 23 incidents produced an orange cloud that hung over the 500 acre site. Velo subsequently reported that the emissions consisted of nitric oxide and nitrogen dioxide, "both are extremely hazardous substances."
The plant was restarted yet again on Aug. 31 Velo reported.
"This start up went well, as the plant started up correctly with the pressure in the plant as expected," he added.
But Velo said even with the repairs, other issues, including limited on-site storage, made it impossible for the company to run the nitric acid plant for 30 consecutive days and record required data.
He said that as a result the 30 consecutive day test period would have to be delayed until Oct. 1 and perhaps even Nov. 1.
Currently, Velo wrote, US Nitrogen faces an Oct. 26 deadline to submit the results of the 30 consecutive day test.
"It is physically impossible to complete and report the results" by that deadline, the letter states.
Other issues causing delays cited by Velo include problems in the ammonia production process including mechanical problems.
"The delay in onsite ammonia production has greatly limited nitric acid plant operation since its certified start up," Velo wrote.
 The company is seeking a 180 day delay in the deadline for reporting monitoring results from 30 consecutive days of operation of the nitric acid plant along with extensions in two other related reporting and testing requirements.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

US Nitrogen's Third Start-up Produces Emissions

By Walter F. Roche Jr.

State officials say that they monitored the restart Tuesday of U.S. Nitrogen's  nitric acid manufacturing facility in Midway, Tenn. and while they know there were emissions into the atmosphere they don't yet know whether federal air pollution rules were violated in the process.
Eric Ward, spokesman for the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, said in an email response to questions that, nonetheless, the agency does not believe the restart of earlier startup attempts resulted in any harm to human health or the environment.
"TDEC staff was on site and actively monitored startup efforts at US Nitrogen's nitric acid plant yesterday and are aware that the process resulted in emissions.
"However," Ward continued it is too early to speculate whether any emissions emanating from the plant yesterday exceeded regulations."
US Nitrogen, meanwhile, issued a statement to a local broadcaster claiming that it had identified the problem that caused the Aug. 23 incident and corrected it. The company statement also said the plant would be fully operational in the next few weeks. 
The Tuesday restart effort follows an Aug. 23 incident in which the initial startup efforts produced an orange cloud of nitrous oxide and nitrous dioxide that hung over the 500 acre US Nitrogen site.
Ward said TDEC had asked to be notified in advance of the startup and staff was on hand Tuesday and "actively monitored" the efforts.
"At this time," Ward added, "TDEC does not have any evidence that the releases during the startups resulted in any harm to human health and the environment."
Ward said that under its existing permit, US Nitrogen can begin startup operations without further approval.
US Nitrogen plant manager Andrew Velo told TDEC officials that there were two incidents on Aug. 23 in which nitric oxide and nitric dioxide were released into the environment. In a conversation with state officials shortly after the incidents he estimated that a total of 2,900 pounds of the two toxic chemicals were released into the atmosphere.
Ward said that the state was continuing its investigation.
The Aug. 23 incidents were preceded by a disclosure by US Nitrogen that it may have violated anti-pollution requirements by attempting a startup of an ammonium nitrate operation without a scrubber being in place.

Friday, September 2, 2016

US Nitrogen Had Two Excess NO2 Emissions

By Walter F. Roche Jr.

US Nitrogen officials have informed state regulators that there were actually two separate incidents on Aug. 23 in which excess nitric oxide and nitrogen dioxide were emitted from the $200 million ammonium nitrate manufacturing facility.
Notes compiled by an official of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation show that US Nitrogen Plant Manager Andrew Velo acknowledged in an Aug. 25 telephone conversation that some 2,900 pound of nitrous oxide were released during the two events.
The notes provide new details of what caused a huge orange cloud to form above the US Nitrogen site on Aug. 23.
In addition Velo, in a letter to TDEC, reported that the total emissions were likely between 1,000 and 3,000 pounds.
"The release contained nitric oxide and nitrogen dioxide. Both are extremely hazardous substances," Velo's letter states.
"US Nitrogen does not believe that there were any acute or chronic health risks associated with the release," he added.
The notes on the telephone conversation with Velo were compiled by TDEC Manager Michelle Owenby. A copy was provided by TDEC to Park Overall, a local resident.
According to the notes, Velo acknowledged that he probably was in error when he ordered another attempt to restart the nitric acid plant  on the afternoon of Aug. 23.
"Andy said in retrospect that he probably shouldn't have attempted the second restart," the TDEC notes state.
During the second restart some 2,400 pounds of nitrous oxide were emitted, while the more visible morning incident resulted in 500 pounds of emissions, the TDEC memo states.
The first incident occurred at 6:15 a.m. when a startup of the plant was initiated and, due to insufficient  pressure in the tower led to the emissions and the plant was shutdown after 45 minutes at 7 a.m.
The second startup attempt, the memo states, was initiated at 3:30 p.m.
 "The same issues occurred and they kept running the plant in an attempt to identify the source of the leak or failing delivery pressures," the memo continues.
The attempt was not aborted until 6:45 p.m., resulting in the release of the 2,400 pounds of nitrous oxide.
Velo told Owenby that the company then reported the incident to the National Response Center.
Velo, according to Owenby's notes, said the company planned to do testing with argon, an inert gas, to find the source of an apparent leak.
Owenby reported that she questioned Velo about whether adequate and sufficiently trained staff were on duty during the two events. She listed about a half dozen staffers including Velo with experience in running a nitric acid plant.
Velo acknowledged during the conversation that US Nitrogen's environmental manager was not on duty during the two events.
"I asked Andy to be mindful of atmospheric conditions when starting up again," Owenby wrote, adding " I asked him to avoid calm wind and temperature inversion conditions that were unfavorable to atmospheric dispersion."
She stated that Velo "acknowledged the early morning startup may not have been favorable conditions. I also asked Andy to be mindful of the community and the initial impression they were making upon them as they started up."
According to the memo, US Nitrogen will probably be asking for an extension on an upcoming deadline for the completion of required tests.
TDEC spokesman Eric Ward said today that the agency investigation of the emissions was ongoing.