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April 9, 2021

EPA fines Dutch manufacturer for violations at former South Portland site

A Dutch maker of so-called plugs used to grow plants has agreed to pay a a $137,294 penalty to settle charges by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that it violated chemical accident prevention rules at its former South Portland manufacturing site.

Quick Plug SA, based in the town of Monster in the Netherlands not far from The Hague, made trays of growth media for seedlings and small plants in South Portland until it stopped operating in Maine in December 2020. 

In the action, EPA alleged that the company failed to follow federal regulations in its use of toluene diisocyanate, an extremely hazardous substance known as TDI that it used in making a soil-like media for growing seeds.

The agency also alleged that the company failed to prepare and submit a Risk Management Plan related to its use of the substance.

"Complying with risk management plan regulations helps companies prevent accidental releases of extremely hazardous substances," said EPA New England Acting Regional Administrator Deborah Szaro, in a news release.

"These requirements are designed to help protect local communities and the emergency responders who may be called on if there is an accident at the facility."

Bill Maartense, managing director of Quick Plug NA, told Mainebiz via email on Friday, “As per an inspection in 2018, we quickly addressed and resolved all the concerns of the inspection to the satisfaction of the EPA. In recent months, we again worked again with the EPA to resolve associated financial penalties." 

He also said that any questions regarding the company's global operations should be addressed to its corporate office in Columbus, Ohio.

Further details

The EPA alleged that from about 2016 to 2018, Quick Plug's South Portland facility used more than the threshold quantity of 10,000 pounds in its process and was required to submit a risk management plan to EPA, including a registration for its process, which it did not do.

It also noted that when Quick Plug was operating with less than 10,000 pounds, it was subject to  more general accident prevention and mitigation requirements in the Clean Air Act.

During an EPA inspection of the facility before it closed, inspectors documented several issues, including improper handling and storage of TDI, a regulated extremely hazardous substance under the Clean Air Act's chemical accident prevention regulations.

A possible carcinogen, the substance can cause respiratory irritation or breathing difficulties if it is inhaled and lead to chronic asthma even in those with minimal exposure, according to the EPA.

Among issues cited by the agency at Quick Plug's South Portland facility were missing signs; fire hazards caused by use of extension cords; use of a portable electric space heater inside the chemical storage area; improper storage of combustible wood pallets; lack of proper ventilation; failure to maintain equipment leaking TDI; and open drums of TDI-containing chemicals.

The agency also said that secondary containment was missing in several chemical storage areas, and that safety showers were missing at eyewash stations near the carousel line and chemical storage hut.

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