Fluoride Action Network

Massachusetts Presstek faces $125k EPA fine for release of 750 pounds of hydrofluoric acid

Source: New Hampshire Business Review | February 29th, 2008 | By BOB SANDERS
Industry type: Chemical Industry

Presstek faces a fine of more than $125,000 for alleged environmental violations relating to a 2006 chemical spill at its plant in South Hadley, Mass.

In an administrative complaint, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says that the Hudson-based provider of printing equipment released some 750 pounds of hydrofluoric acid — “an extremely hazardous chemical,” according to the EPA — through a ventilation fan the night before Halloween in 2006, causing the evacuation of 90 residents and closing public schools the following day.

Presstek didn’t notify the National Response Center of the release, as required by federal law, according to the complaint. Instead, an unidentified caller notified the South Hadley Police Department of a visible plume.

“Late notification of a toxic release to state and federal authorities makes it much more difficult for public health and safety officials to respond effectively,” said Robert Varney, regional administrator of EPA’s New England office. “Timely reporting is especially important for facilities such as this one, where toxic materials are stored at a relatively close proximity to a residential area.”

The EPA also charges that Presstek failed to design and maintain a safe facility and did not do enough to minimize the consequences of such a release, violating provisions of the Clean Air Act. Insufficient safety controls and operator error were the likely cause of the release, according to the EPA.

The company alluded to the complaint in its recent long-delayed filing of its third quarter filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, but the company did not offer any details at the time.

Following the 2006 spill, Presstek discontinued its operations at South Hadley, where its analog printing products were manufactured, completing its switch to more profitable digital products. However, the increased income from its digital products has yet to make up for the loss of its analog products, contributing to losses of $9.4 million year to date.

The company has cut it workforce and consolidated its operations but increased the workforce at its Hudson facility. However, the company has moved administrative offices – including investor relations — to Connecticut, where a Hudson spokeswoman referred calls. Those calls were not returned by deadline.