Busy Regulatory Agenda for Ammonia
Many Factors in Flux, But Work Continues to Advance Natural Refrigerants
From a regulatory standpoint, the next two years promise to be active for the ammonia refrigeration industry, according to Lowell Randel, vice president government and legal affairs, Global Cold Chain Alliance.
Speaking at a recent meeting of the International Institute of Ammonia Refrigeration (IIAR), Randel said the current climate in Washington features not only the traditional schisms between parties, but also schisms within parties. This means that arriving at a consensus on legislation may be more difficult than usual. In addition, as President Obama’s second term winds down, the president is likely to continue to aggressively advance his regulatory agenda.
One example of this agenda is the executive order on chemical safety and security which, according to Randel, has the potential to dramatically affect regulations that impact the ammonia refrigeration industry.
Executive Order 13650, Improving Chemical Facility Safety and Security, is an effort being led by three tri-chairs: the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Department of Labor (which oversees the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). It was initiated in the wake of the April 17, 2013 fire and explosion at a fertilizer facility in West, Texas, in which 15 people — including 12 first-responders — were killed, and more than 200 were injured.
The plan that emerged from the Chemical Facility Safety and Security Working Groupincludes improved coordination and information sharing across DHS, OSHA, EPA, as well as better coordination with state and local officials, including the first response community. Although all of that is very positive, Randel said, he noted that the executive order could cause changes to Process Safety Management (PSM) and Risk Management Program (RMP) regulations and to the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) program.
“With respect to PSM, some of the changes that have been discussed include adding new management system elements,” Randel said. “OSHA is talking about some different metrics that they think might be useful for inclusion in management system elements within the PSM. One of the things we've responded back to OSHA is that this is a performance-based standard. We want to avoid micromanaging how facilities address PSM. Adding new specific micromanaging metrics goes against that performance-based standard.”
Regarding the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards program, IIAR’s input is that ammonia has not been a major source of concern for terrorist activities.
“Our feeling is that we should be exempted from the anti-terrorism regulation if ammonia is used in a refrigeration context, and there are no other chemicals of interest in that facility,” Randel said.
The Chemical Facility Safety and Security Working Groupis also looking at redefining recognized as generally accepted good engineering practices, or RAGAGEP.
According to Randel, IIAR developed a task force to put forth some draft comments on all of these issues, then built a coalition around those comments. Coalition members include the Refrigerating Engineers and Technicians Association, the International Association of Refrigerated Warehouses, the American Frozen Food Institute, the American Meat Institute, the U.S. Poultry and Egg Association, and other organizations.
“We've built a broad-based coalition so that we’re speaking with one voice on these issues,” Randel said.
Jeffrey M. Shapiro, P.E., FSFPE, president, International Code Consultants, which handles IIAR’s regulatory affairs work on the state and local levels, noted that the 2015 model codes have been released, and said the ammonia refrigeration industry should be very much in support of adoption of the 2015 codes.
“In many industries, the perspective is that new codes are bad,” Shapiro said. “From this industry's perspective, the new codes are good. We've had a tremendous amount of success over the years working things into the code that solve problems for [the ammonia refrigeration] industry. The 2015 codes are a really good example of some major issues that we have worked through, that are good for our industry. You want to see those documents adopted.
“The biggest problem we had when I started with IIAR, back in the 1990s, was that code officials did not understand our industry,” he added. “They didn’t understand our technology, they didn’t understand the risks, and code officials tend to over-regulate what they don't understand. We spent a lot of time over the years doing hundreds of programs, and teaching thousands of code officials about ammonia refrigeration.”
Unfortunately, according to Shapiro, there are a number of states that are under pressure to delay adoption of the most recent codes and standards that are being published as a cost savings measure. “They don't want to buy the new books,” he said. “They don't want to train their inspectors.”
Shapiro said that the biggest challenge for IIAR from a regulatory perspective is solidifying the institute’s role as the premier standards development organization for ammonia refrigeration. IIAR and ammonia refrigeration has been subordinate to the major refrigeration standards, such as the ISO standards or ASHRAE Standard 15, Safety Standard for Refrigeration Systems and Designation and Classification of Refrigerants, for many years. However, the ongoing work on ANSI/IIAR-2, Standard for Safe Design of Closed-Circuit Ammonia Refrigeration Systems, is beginning to change that.
“We’ve developed a suite of standards that IIAR is now promoting in the fire and mechanical codes, and they’re being adopted,” Shapiro said. “That's a huge step forward for our industry. Once you're recognized as a model reference standard by the building, fire, and mechanical codes, it really cements you as a leading standards development organization.”
He added that the latest version of IIAR-2 no longer relies on ASHRAE 15 as a reference standard.
“The bottom line is, the latest version of IIAR-2 is dramatically different from anything in the previous editions,” Shapiro said. “It's now a combination of a code and a standard. It is the regulatory document for ammonia refrigeration.”
Looking forward, Shapiro said that in terms of RAGAGEP, IIAR has a chance to direct its own destiny.
“Our organization should consider looking at developing an existing facility standard,” Shapiro said. “I think it’s an important step for us to decide, as an industry, what the appropriate safety features at a facility are, and what steps should be taken by a member of the ammonia refrigeration industry to operate a facility safely. And we should be the ones to prescribe that.”
Randel concluded by noting that the time is right for the natural refrigerants industry to step forward. Hydrochlorofluorocarbons such as R-22 are being phased out, and the United States is participating in global efforts that are beginning to target hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerants as well.
“We see this as an opportunity to communicate to industry about the benefits of ammonia, and other natural refrigerants, as they transition away from things like R-22,” he said. “These are great viable alternatives that should be considered.”