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How to prepare for upcoming regulations on air toxics

Colorado manufacturing and energy businesses in nearly every industry are required to maintain compliance with various public health and safety regulations. In June, the Colorado General Assembly added another law to select facilities’ plates: HB 1189, Regulate Air Toxics.  

A central component of the law: a requirement that certain chemical producers and refineries consistently monitor and swiftly report specified compounds detected along their property lines.

More than a year remains before impacted facilities are required to have operational fenceline air monitoring programs in place. Still, meeting the demands of this legislation will be a time-consuming process filled with selecting and acquiring equipment, developing strategic data collection and communication plans, and more. That is why affected Colorado businesses would be well advised to start preparing now.

Under the new law, the state will initially require real-time air monitoring for hydrogen cyanide, hydrogen sulfide and benzene. However, it leaves open the possibility for the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission to consider, at least every five years, whether to expand the list to additional chemicals and industries. For now, “covered facilities” include stationary sources reporting 10,000 pounds of hydrogen cyanide, 5,000 pounds of hydrogen sulfide or 5,000 pounds of benzene in their annual federal toxics release inventory filings. These entities will be responsible for fenceline monitoring while the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) will perform community-based air monitoring near the facilities. 

At the urging of the Colorado General Assembly and constituents, the bill is explicit about public communication. The law requires impacted facilities to provide regular and transparent outreach by reporting their air monitoring results through public-facing websites. It also requires facilities to develop “notification thresholds” for each chemical monitored that will be used to trigger public emergency notification systems, such as reverse 911 calls. If notification thresholds are exceeded, the facilities must alert communities within a three-mile circle.

The new regulatory requirements are daunting. So, how can businesses meet them without disrupting or sidetracking their current operations? Advanced planning.  

First, affected facilities must work with relevant stakeholders, including CDPHE, to set chemical notification levels based on potential short-term human health impacts. Emergency notifications must be made within the relevant area, at least three miles from the facility, for when notification thresholds are exceeded or during emission incidents when air pollutant rates or quantities exceed allowable levels. The current three-mile relevant area does not consider the spectrum of emission incidents that may occur. As such, facilities would be well advised to develop notification plans that reflect the magnitude of an incident or notification level exceedance.    

Facilities must then create draft air monitoring plans with the input of government regulators. Next, businesses must undergo negotiation phases. As part of this, they should hold multiple public meetings to address community concerns in an approachable and easy-to-understand manner. Once their plans are finalized, facilities must acquire, install and calibrate the required infrastructure and equipment along the fenceline of their properties. In addition, they must ensure they are prepared to leverage well-established scientific methodologies to provide real-time communications to impacted stakeholders, from the public to regulators and local governments, when needed. And, as with any regulation, businesses should be ready to swiftly pivot, especially if they emit other hazardous air pollutants identified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.   

Complying with HB 1189 is achievable, but it will be a heavy lift, particularly for facilities without readily available toxicological risk assessment and public health risk communications support. But with smart, strategic and scientific, data-driven choices, impacted facilities can better manage their resources and keep their workforces and communities safe.   

Tami McMullin, PhD and Michael Lumpkin, PhD, are senior toxicologists and Eric Farstad is a project consultant and air quality scientist with CTEH, a subsidiary of Montrose Environmental Group, specializing in environmental emergency preparedness, response and recovery.