The cities of Groton and Norwich, Conn. will make significant upgrades to their drinking water treatment plants by eliminating the use of chlorine gas at these facilities. These actions settle claims by the US Environmental Protection Agency that the cities violated federal clean air laws meant to prevent chemical accidents.

Groton and Norwich will pay penalties of $7,000 and $8,330, respectively, and both cities will put in place projects to reduce public health risks in their communities by eliminating the use of chlorine gas at these facilities. The water treatment plants will use sodium hypochlorite, a safer chemical, for water disinfection. The cost to make these facility upgrades will be at least $449,000 in Groton, and at least $150,000 in Norwich.

Removing chlorine gas from these facilities will eliminate the chance of an accidental release from this source and improve the safety of residents, without compromising water treatment. Sodium hypochlorite is easier to handle and less hazardous than chlorine gas.

“EPA is pleased that the Groton and Norwich water treatment facilities will update their plants and eliminate the use of chlorine gas,” said Curt Spalding, regional administrator of EPA’s New England office. “Facilities that store and use hazardous materials have a special obligation to understand and carefully follow regulations designed to protect people, our communities and our environment from potentially catastrophic consequences of accidents.”

Municipalities and businesses that use chlorine gas or other hazardous chemicals are required to take precautions to avoid violating chemical accident prevention regulations. EPA works with municipalities and businesses using chlorine or other hazardous chemicals to ensure compliance with these Clean Air Act regulations and thereby avoid an accidental chemical release. These cases stem from 2012 inspections of the water treatment facilities.

At the Groton Water Treatment Facility, EPA documented violations of the risk management regulations related to the storage and handling of chlorine gas. These included the failure to: (1) develop a management system; (2) develop an adequate off-site hazard consequence analysis; (3) adequately update its process hazards analysis between 1997 and 2012, as required; (4) address safety and health considerations in its operating procedures as well as to review and certify operating procedures annually; (5) maintain adequate personnel training documentation; (6) adequately implement a program to maintain the ongoing integrity of process equipment; (7) conduct and document compliance audits at least every three years; and (8) implement an adequate emergency response plan.

At Norwich’s Dr. Charles W. Solomon Water Purification Plant, EPA identified a number of violations of the risk management requirements, including the failure to: (1) develop a management system; (2) compile process safety information; (3) update the process hazard analysis for its chlorine process; (4) create or maintain complete written operating procedures; (5) conduct personnel refresher training; (6) develop and put in place a preventative maintenance program; (7) conduct compliance audits; and (8) put in place a contractor program.

The Clean Air Act’s Risk Management Plan requirements are designed to prevent and minimize the consequences of an accidental release of hazardous substances, such as chlorine gas. Exposure to chlorine gas presents significant health risks because, if it is released, it can be severely corrosive to the eyes, skin, and lungs. In some cases, exposure to high concentrations can be fatal. Inhalation of chlorine at lower concentrations can cause lung inflammation, fluid in the lungs, chest pain, and vomiting.

As part of their settlements with EPA, the Groton and Norwich plants have certified that they have corrected the alleged violations and are now operating the facilities in compliance with Clean Air Act requirements.