Most U.S. members of the International Association of Refrigerated Warehouses (IARW) are aware of the annual ammonia reporting requirements under SARA Title III, Community-Right-To-Know regulations. Less understood is the fact that the law also covers other hazardous and extremely hazardous chemicals commonly used in public refrigerated warehouses (PRWs), particularly sulfuric acid, which is a major component of most batteries.

A new Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) initiative that focuses on lead acid batteries recently resulted in fines of more than $35,000 at one PRW facility. These steep penalties were attributed to the fact that the facility had never listed batteries on its Tier I / Tier II reports and had not voluntarily disclosed its failure to comply with reporting requirements.

Under SARA Title III, facilities using or storing 500 pounds or more of sulfuric acid or 10,000 pounds of other hazardous chemicals (battery mixtures containing lead acids, lead sulfites, etc.) must show maximum and daily average amounts of these hazardous chemicals, the number of days on site, their locations and other information on the annual chemical inventory forms (generally Tier I or Tier II). The forms must be submitted no later than March 1, 2008, to the SERC, the LEPC and the fire department having jurisdiction in each location.

Since there probably are at least 100 to 150 pounds of sulfuric acid (extremely hazardous) and 1,500 to 2,500 pounds of hazardous chemicals in a single battery, any facility with four or five batteries (and perhaps fewer) exceeds the threshold quantities that trigger these filings.

To avoid incurring fines from the EPA, be warned that it may not be sufficient to include battery information for 2007 in your 2008 Tier I / Tier II submissions. The best chance for avoiding or reducing fines is to voluntarily disclose your violations under EPA’s Audit Policy, Incentives for Self Policing: Discovery, Disclosure, Correction and Prevention of Violations. The same advice applies to non-ammonia facilities that have not previously filed Tier I / Tier II reports.

Penalties generally reflect an amount based upon the severity of the violation, and an amount based on the economic benefits of noncompliance. While we cannot know how EPA might rule, facilities that have been filing Tier I / Tier II reports - but not listing battery information - might successfully argue that they have achieved no economic gain from not showing battery information on their filings. Gravity-based penalties can be reduced by as much as 100 percent for companies that meet all of the conditions set forth in the EPA Audit Policy.

In theory, at least, companies that disclose their transgression can get a free pass on noncompliance. The EPA Audit Policy is posted on the EPA Web site at: www.epa.gov/compliance/incentives/auditing/.

Benjamin Milk is a policy and programs consultant with the International Association of Refrigerated Warehouses-World Food Logistics Organization, in Alexandria, Va. The following report appeared in an electronic newsletter circulated Jan. 30, 2008, to IARW members. For more information about the organization, call (703) 373-4300 or visit www.iarw.org.