This case study involves a hazardous waste/an environmental engineering expert’s assessment of the transportation of chemical supplies such as liquid propane (LP) gas and anhydrous ammonia to farms in the Midwest. The plaintiff in this case – a business owner that distributes LP gas -owns large storage tanks and distributes to more than 150 small farms. The plaintiff’s company purchases the fuel from large corporations such as Conoco Phillips, then hires a third party OTR logistics company to transport the fuel from the supplier to his distribution facility. The defendant’s company transports a number of liquefied substances to farms, including anhydrous ammonia, which is typically used as a pesticide/herbicide on farms. When the plaintiff purchased 18,000 gallons of LP, the defendant was called to transport it. The defendant used two 9,000-gallon tanker trailers that had been previously used to transport anhydrous ammonia. The defendant admits that he did not properly clean out the vessels prior to transporting the LP. 18,000 gallons of fuel were then delivered to the plaintiff’s distribution facility and later dispersed to numerous farms. The fuel has been proven to be tainted with anhydrous ammonia, and it has been introduced to hundreds of farms where it has caused tens of millions of dollars in damage. As a result of this damage, the plaintiff’s business went bankrupt.
Question(s) For Expert Witness
- 1. Is it unreasonable for a logistics company to use the same trucks to transport anhydrous ammonia as they use to transport propane gas?
- 2. If you believe it is OK to use the same containers for transport, does the logistics provider have an obligation to ensure that these tanks are properly cleaned to ensure there is no risk of contamination?
- 3. Would the logistics provider be required to test the materials to confirm no contamination exists, to confirm suitability for his/her customer?
- 4. Please explain your experience with the two listed materials.
- 5. Please explain your experience as an expert witness.
Expert Witness Response E-009353
I spent almost 20 years with the DOT’s hazardous waste office, so I am intimately familiar with the logistics processes for transporting propane and anhydrous ammonia. I have experience with packaging, transporting, compatibility, cleaning and shipping hazardous materials. The tanks should have been thoroughly cleaned prior to re-use, and there are various regulations and tests that I am familiar with that speak to this process. I have reviewed a similar case in the past and feel confident I could be of assistance on this case.
The state of Minnesota published the issue of transporting NH3 (as a waste) with LPG. Dept. of Agriculture. The publication describes the resulting over-pressure with potential tank rupture because of the immiscibility of NH3 and LPG and other causes of leaks due specifically to NH3 corrosion of fittings. Given the findings noted in the referenced document, it is unreasonable to allow NH3 to be transported in same tanks with any reactive chemical without a thorough and documented remediation. The defendant has admitted to not properly remediating the tanks prior to shipping fuels, so it appears he has knowledge of the consequences of his failure. The issue of requiring separate tanks for each chemical has to be addressed based on the reactivity of the chemicals in question. In this case, NH3 and LPG while not mixing represent a high likelihood of tank explosion. Combustion of LPG contaminated with NH3 may result in an incomplete combustion of the LPG and NH3 or both. There is insufficient information in the synopsis to determine the specifics. However, incomplete combustion could result in toxic and potentially lethal fumes of NH3 in the immediate environment.
Logic not burdened by economics would support separate tanks for these chemicals. If the economics were an issue, a proper venting of the tanks would eliminate the hazard. However, this could release NH3 into the environment, which is contrary to federal rules published under the RCRA. NH3 is a characteristic waste, and its disposal is controlled by regulations published by the USEPA. Should the economics still favor the proper environmental disposal of the NH3 rather than a separate tank fleet, it is possible that a test for residual alkalinity (evidence of NH3 contamination) after washing/drying the tanks could be used to demonstrate the tanks to be free of NH3 residue. This activity would in any event need to be recorded for the Toxics inventory, or TRI registry. Both NH3 and LPG are listed as chemicals in the TRI listing which categorizes potential chemical releases in local environmental areas. This alone should raise red flags for the owners to follow specific warnings and cautions to preclude major litigation from citizens affected from releases.
Expert Witness Response E-000398
The tankers should have been certified clean to haul the LP gas to prevent cross contamination. I am sure the defendant had policies and procedures in place for washing and cleaning the tankers.
I am an environmental protection expert with a background in dealing with hazardous waste (most notably, propane). I was employed as a geologist for a number of fuel companies in the past, having operated my propane exploration company some time ago. I am very familiar with the storage procedures necessary for anhydrous ammonia and propane. If a company was to use the same truck to transport these two materials, it is necessary to ensure that these tanks are properly cleaned to ensure no risk of contamination. There are laws that I am familiar with that are in place to ensure that specific tests are performed to ensure that these materials are not contaminated due to the dangers inherent in their chemical reaction. I review a number of cases per year and have previously served as an expert. I would be happy to review this case on behalf of the plaintiff.