4 The record articles

Are You Ready For Your Next Air Quality Facility Inspection?

Posted: January 18th, 2012

Author: All4 Staff 


As most of you know, air quality-related facility inspections by local, state, and Federal regulators (Agencies) can either be announced (scheduled in advance) or unannounced (e.g., surprise inspections).  Facility environmental personnel need to be prepared for both, and with advanced planning and preparation, can indeed be prepared.  It is important for facility environmental personnel to remember that most air quality violations, and resulting penalties, are not for excess emissions but for some type of administrative oversight, such as a missed record, or for a reporting error.

How Do I Prepare for an Inspection?

Different types of inspections can include the following:

  • Pre-construction permitting,
  • Operating permit compliance,
  • Incident investigation,
  • Sample collection,
  • Source testing observation,
  • Continuous Emission Monitoring (CEM) validation,
  • Annual compliance certification, and
  • Multi-media audit.

Inspections typically begin with the requirements stipulated in the facility’s Operating Permit.  Your preparation for any inspection (surprise or routine) should begin with a thorough review of your Operating Permit and any Pre-construction Permits that have not yet been incorporated, with special focus on any specific sources that have been identified by the regulatory Agency for the inspection.  Have a printed copy of these documents available during the inspection.  Although the Agency may be at your facility for a specific reason, anything that they observe during the inspection will likely be part of their report.  All records that are required by the Operating Permit should be readily available, organized, and up to date.  Thoroughly review any records for missing data or exceptionally high or low values, even if they are not out of compliance.  Have your compiled records in a single (preferably isolated) location that will be convenient for the Agency to review.  Any electronic report already made to the Agency should not be required for the inspection.

Facility environmental personnel should conduct a pre-inspection practice run of the plant tour route that you will be giving to the Agency.  This will allow you to determine ahead of time what they will see, verify that all equipment and monitors are operating, verify that daily/weekly logs are available, and generally observe the plant housekeeping.  Indications of spills, discoloration on buildings near exhaust points, and general bad housekeeping will raise additional questions from the Agency staff for which you should be prepared to provide answers.  The last thing you want to find, or worse, have the Agency find, is a new source that has not been permitted.  Don’t forget about those temporary electrical generators that are brought in for maintenance work.

Be prepared for the Agency to take material samples such as fuels, raw materials, or consumables; especially those containing volatile organic compounds (VOCs).  You should have your own sampling-acceptable containers to take duplicate samples of whatever the Agency collects. If you anticipate the Agency will make visual emission observations, you should also have a certified reader to take readings along with the Agency.

Plan to have your calendar cleared for the day(s) of the inspection and make sure that your key plant personnel are available during the inspection period.  Also, plan for more time than you actually anticipate the inspection to take, as something unexpected may come up and cause delays.  Be sure to plan for at least an hour for an exit interview during which time you can assess from the inspectors what was found during the inspection and what follow-up will be required.  You should receive a copy of a written inspection report from the Agency before they leave.

Planning for the “Surprise” Inspection

Facility environmental personnel need to understand that surprise inspections should not be unexpected.  For example, if a recent facility inspection resulted in the Agency issuing a Notice of Violation (NOV), it would be prudent to expect, and therefore plan for, an unannounced follow-up inspection.  Agencies routinely make subsequent surprise visits to check that adequate progress is being made for corrective actions, to determine if continuing violations are occurring, or to identify whether there are other violations of a similar nature.  Another type of surprise inspection that facility environmental personnel can anticipate is the “targeted” inspection for a specific type of industry.  Typically the Agency will announce in various forums, such as in its regulatory development schedule, an intention to focus on certain air emission source types within in the coming year.  If your facility is one of those categories you can almost count on a visit by a regulator.  The inclusion of your facility on such a list should prompt immediate preparatory steps by facility environmental personnel.  Finally, if you have been placed on U.S. EPA’s High Priority Violators List, you can almost consider that an open invitation for a surprise inspection.

The Regulators Are Here; Now What?

In the event of a surprise inspection, it is important for facility environmental personnel to ask the Agency personnel for as much information as they can concerning the nature of the inspection.  Try to identify the specific purposes of the inspection (there can be many), the type of Agency staff that are involved (which could include both Federal and state/local agency staff), and the anticipated duration of the inspection.  If U.S. EPA is involved with the inspection, you can be fairly certain that it is a “targeted” inspection.  U.S. EPA does not typically make “”routine”” compliance inspections.  If U.S. EPA is at your door, their visit is likely related to your facility, your parent company, or your industrial source classification.  (See: “Planning for the Surprise Inspection” above).

The Agency will usually want to tour the facility.  In addition to a general walk-around to look at your air emission sources, the Agency will typically want to see that the monitoring equipment is in operation and that all required manual and automated records are being generated and maintained.  Failure to have a monitor in good working order, even a simple device such as a pressure-differential gauge, could result in an NOV.  If there are written logs that must be completed on a daily or weekly basis, be prepared to show where they are located and that your staff are making timely notations as required.

The Agency may also indicate their intention to follow-up with additional questions.  Try to find out as much as you can about the areas where they still have concerns or questions before they leave. If you have been asked during the walk-around portion of the inspection to provide additional information, be sure to verify your understanding of what that additional information is, and when that information must be provided to the Agency.


Always be courteous, cooperative, and above all remain calm.  The inspector is doing his/her job and you are doing yours.  Be attentive to the inspector’s observations and have a colleague accompany the tour to take notes while you address the inspector’s needs.  Any issues that the inspector observes or mentions, no matter how insignificant they seem, should be noted and, if possible, immediately addressed.  Make it a point to keep a list of such observations and to indicate during a closing interview that each one was recognized and has either already been, or will be, addressed as appropriate by the plant.  Take replicate or split samples of any sample collected by the inspector.  Assume that any records that are identified and/or reviewed by the Agency during the inspection must be provided to the Agency to take along when they leave (i.e., have copies available in a convenient format).  No matter how well you prepare for an Agency inspection there are bound to be some surprises.  However, if you don’t prepare adequately you can be certain that you will be getting a follow-up surprise inspection and maybe even a Notice of Violation.


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