IIAR Advances Regulatory Reform Proposals

President Trump has made regulatory reform a high priority for his administration. Trump has signed several executive orders on regulatory reform and task forces have been established at regulatory agencies to identify opportunities for regulatory relief.

With the positive climate for regulatory reform, IIAR has been exploring regulatory changes that would provide regulatory relief while improving safety in the ammonia refrigeration industry. This process has resulted in the development of the following three proposals that have recently been sent to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Proposal I: Update IDLH ammonia and allowable APR usage based on latest science and technology.


The current IDLH for ammonia is 300 ppm. The original IDLH for ammonia was 500 ppm but was revised down to 300 ppm. IDLH values are established to ensure that a worker can escape from a contaminated environment in the event of failure of the respiratory protection equipment, and to indicate a maximum level above which only a highly reliable breathing apparatus, providing maximum worker protection, is permitted. The highest level of protection is required above IDHL levels, which means SCBA must currently be used when entering a facility during a release event with ammonia concentrations about 300 ppm.


The current IDLH level limits the ability of trained facility personnel to mitigate the impacts of an ammonia release. Limiting the use of full-face air-purifying respirators (APRs) above 300 ppm hinders the ability of facility personnel to engage in emergency shutdown and life-saving efforts to rescue and/ or escort those out of an affected area. The limitation also prevents a rapid assessment of the problem and the allowance for an immediate fix. These are unnecessary restrictions that can have a negative impact on health and life safety and inhibit the ability to minimize the impacts of a release.

Data supports an increase in the IDLH level to 500 ppm and permitting the use of an APR to accomplish critical tasks (defined by a standard operating procedure) for up to 30-minute exposure of levels that do not exceed 1,000 parts per million. Since the IDLH level was revised to 300 ppm, the performance of personal protective equipment, and particularly APRs, has dramatically improved. APRs have consistently been shown to work reliably at levels of several thousand ppm for ammonia. OSHA’s Maximum Use Concentration for a full-face respirator is 50 times the Permissible Exposure Level which, for ammonia, equates to 2,500 ppm.


Allow the use of APR respirators to help mitigate incidental impacts of releases up to 500 ppm. Personnel who have been trained to follow standard operating procedures should be allowed to wear APRs to engage in critical tasks such as rescue and emergency shutdown at levels up to 1,000 ppm for a maximum of 30 minutes of exposure. By allowing the use of APR up to 1000 ppm, personnel will have adequate protection and, even in the event of APR failure, sufficient time to escape the situation.

Proposal II: Revise the Interpretation of “Immediate” to mean 15 minutes for local reporting and eight hours for national and state reporting.


Under current policy, an ammonia release above the reportable quantity of 100 pounds over 24 hours must be reported “immediately”. While the term “immediately” has not been defined in regulation, the EPA interprets “immediate” to mean 15 minutes from the time the facility knew about the reportable release. Under the current interpretation, notifications must take place at the local, state and national levels within 15 minutes or the facility will be vulnerable to citations.


The current interpretation of “immediate” results in the occupation of critical facility resources that could otherwise be used to evaluate and respond to the ammonia release. The first 30 minutes of an ammonia release are critical to minimizing health and life safety risks, as well as mitigating off-site consequences. In many cases, release quantities and impacts can be minimized with quick action by facility personnel.

Contacting local responders within the first 15 minutes is important, as local authorities are positioned to respond and have a meaningful impact on the situation. Equally important is the rapid assessment and action by facility personnel. Many ammonia facilities have a small number of employees and diverting these resources can hinder the ability to take critical actions in the first 30 minutes after a release.

Notifying the National Response Center (NRC) and state authorities does not serve the same purpose as the notification of local authorities, because national and state notifications do not trigger actions that will assist in the short-term response to the release at the facility. Delaying the national and state notifications will allow the facility to better utilize its resources during the first critical minutes after a release. If the facility makes the appropriate local notification within 15 minutes, the impact of delaying national and state notification is minimal.


EPA should revise its interpretation of the term “immediate” to mean 15 minutes for local notifications only. National and state notifications should be made within eight hours of knowing about the release. Facilities should be able to focus on the situation at hand and fully utilize its resources to minimize the impacts of the release. Facilities should not be cited for reporting violations if they make local notifications within 15 minutes and national and state notifications within eight hours.

Proposal III: Develop a New Reportable Quantity for Aerosol Releases of Ammonia.


The current reportable quantity for ammonia is 100 pounds over a 24-hour period. This applies to both aerosol and liquid releases of ammonia. The 100-pound reportable quantity was established based on risks to aquatic life with ammonia releases into water.


The characteristics of liquid and aerosol ammonia releases are very different. The current 100-pound reportable quantity for liquid releases is appropriate, as liquid releases could reasonably impact water sources. However, aerosol releases are very unlikely to impact water sources.

The amount of ammonia needed to result in a negative environmental impact is much greater for aerosol releases. Aerosol ammonia quickly dissipates into the air, minimizing the risk of environmental impact. In many cases, releases occur in machine rooms, where proper emergency ventilation is required by EPA and OSHA regulations. These ventilation systems immediately kick-in at set ammonia concentrations, dispersing the released ammonia into the atmosphere.

The current reportable quantity level of 100 pounds for all ammonia releases results in reporting and response to releases that pose no significant threat to the environment. In addition, it is very difficult and impractical to measure 100 pounds of aerosol release in 15 minutes. The current policy results in significant over-reporting of minor releases as facilities work to avoid citations. This over-reporting of non-life safety ammonia releases ties up critical fire, hazmat teams and other resources that may be needed for emergencies involving other health and life safety response priorities. In addition, the unnecessary deployment of multiple emergency response personnel and equipment can cause traffic hazards. Finally, the reporting burden, particularly given the current interpretation of “immediate” as 15 minutes, ties up important facility resources that could be used to assess and address the release situation.


A new category for reportable quantities of aerosol releases of ammonia should be established. The reportable quantity should be set at 500 pounds within a 24-hour period. The current 100-pound reportable quantity should remain intact for liquid ammonia releases when 100 pounds has been released within 24 hours. The creation of a separate reportable quantity for aerosol releases of ammonia would make the agency’s reporting policy much more risk-based and reduce the unnecessary deployment of critical emergency response resources.

IIAR strongly believes that raising the IDLH to 500ppm, revising the definition of “immediate” for release reporting and creating a new reportable release quantity for aerosol ammonia releases are common-sense reforms that will improve safety while reducing the burden on industry. IIAR is actively engaging with OSHA and EPA to advance these proposals as regulatory reform efforts continue.