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Top 5 Preparations for Air Compliance Inspections

Posted: October 5th, 2015

Author: All4 Staff 

It happens every few years…it’s as certain as death and taxes and on a frequency somewhere in between…it’s your air compliance inspection by a regulatory agency.  Maybe the last one went almost too easily, a walk in the park, or maybe you got hammered (root canal, anyone?).  Regardless of past experiences, it’s important to be ready and below are my top five recommended preparations:  

1. Review past inspection results – Be sure to appear you took it seriously after last time 

At the conclusion of your last air inspection, you probably received a report; it might have said all was well, contained recommendations, or noted findings and corrective actions.  If you haven’t considered and/or completed the to-dos, now is your chance before the air inspector shows up again!  Think back to comments your inspector made while on-site; perhaps they didn’t want to put it in writing yet but they mumbled under their breath how you should really be tracking the hours each year your boilers burn distillate oil instead of natural gas (if you don’t know why, ask me!).  You’ll look like a rock star if you’ve confirmed your understanding of these comments and satisfied them where appropriate.  

2. Organize air permits and recordkeeping – It doesn’t count if it isn’t written down 

They say the proof is in the pudding and here is where you prove it.  If you installed new equipment or made substantial changes to your existing sources or operations, ensure your air permits reflect your facility’s current status and have them ready to show the inspector.  Hopefully you’ve had a chance to read Sally Atkins’ blog, Facility Management: Top 5 Environmental Compliance Issues for Engineers and Managers.  Although written with property management and healthcare in mind, its contents are applicable in some way to every industry, and she has a nice description of issues that can revolve around air permitting (#1) and permit compliance (#5)!  

In addition to your air permits, compile and organize the records and reports used to comply with them in a quiet room, free of distractions.  The faster and easier the inspector can review what they need and the less traveling they have to do within the facility to find records, the better.  Don’t give them time to think of more questions or to make observations to report back to their counterparts (maybe they’ll see that hazardous waste drum you’ve been meaning to label!).  Review your records against your air permit prior to the inspection to make sure you are in compliance with every condition and that you can prove it, soliciting the assistance of an environmental consultant if you need.  Be detailed – the nuances are important: Do generator records use clock-time or hour meter readings?  Do records go back the necessary number of years, which varies depending upon the origin of the requirement?  Are operational data and emissions calculated properly (e.g., based upon a calendar year versus a 12-month rolling total)?  We can all agree that it is better to find any issues in advance of an inspection and begin resolving them immediately!    

3. Understand regulations not in your air permits – Not knowing is not an excuse for non-compliance 

It’s easy to take for granted that air permits have all applicable requirements, and even then, it can be difficult to comply with them (i.e., Do you really get the required fuel delivery documentation?  Do your maintenance records align with the suggested frequency in the operations and maintenance manual?)  But what about the new regulations that are issued while your air permit remains unchanged?  In advance of your air inspection, it’s important to understand what requirements apply to your facility and confirm you have documentation to demonstrate compliance.  Most common are the Federal regulations applicable to boilers and just about any stationary generator.  These regulations may require recordkeeping and reporting not already captured by your air permit but it doesn’t mean they are any less important!  Don’t volunteer the information unless asked, but you’ll impress the inspector if they ask to see a copy of your initial notification and latest tune-up in accordance with 40 CFR Part 63, Subpart JJJJJJ (Area Source Boiler MACT) or the results of your performance test, required by 40 CFR Part 60, Subpart JJJJ, because the 500 kilowatt (kW) natural gas-fired engine you recently installed is not a U.S. EPA-certified unit.       

Sometimes a state inspector won’t ask about a regulation because they don’t have the delegated authority to do so – this may also explain why the requirements are not in the air permit or are just briefly mentioned in an air permit cover letter.  But again, it doesn’t get you off the hook for compliance because the U.S. EPA can still ask about it.  Two of the most commonly-overlooked air quality regulations by facilities are asbestos and ozone depleting substances (also noted in Sally’s blog).  

4. Evaluate your asbestos situation – It can start simple 

Asbestos (addressed in 40 CFR Part 61, Subpart M) is often more complicated than other U.S. EPA requirements because it also falls under the jurisdiction of OSHA and the Department of Transportation.  Asbestos is also more common still than most folks think, appearing in mastic, tiles, and piping insulation.  A documentation review is often the best place to start for asbestos.  Find out if the required notification was submitted in accordance with Subpart M (a common compliance issue).  Understand what surveys or abatement activities have already occurred, and confirm if the requirements for surveys (e.g., the number of samples required per floor of a building) have changed since the last effort.  This review will then help guide next steps to ensure compliance, whether they be further surveying or abatement, risk assessment or management plan development, and/or training.  It may also result in additional considerations, such as contract language to protect your facility from asbestos being reintroduced during renovation or construction activities.    

5. Review your refrigerants – Even U.S. EPA-approved substitutes have requirements 

The days of R-12 and R-22 are fading but ozone depleting substances (ODS) like these are still present in a lot of equipment.  See “The Science of Ozone Layer Depletion” to learn which refrigerants are ODS and which are U.S. EPA-approved substitutes.  Keep in mind though that some substitutes still contain ODS as part of the mixture – be sure to check those constituents!  When using ODS, most facilities maintain records of technician certifications and how much refrigerant is evacuated and/or added.  But there is more to do depending upon the total charge of the unit or individual circuits (e.g., do you know how to complete leak rate calculations?), and maintaining copies of recovery equipment registrations and service tickets from the maintenance contractors can be a challenge.  You may be thinking: “I don’t use ODS anymore” but the prohibition of intentional venting also applies to non-ODS refrigerants.  How do you demonstrate that you aren’t intentionally venting?  Although answers may vary, I’d recommend doing so by maintaining records that the technicians are certified and tracking refrigerant evacuated and/or added.  You may never be asked but you may as well be ready!

Air inspections don’t have to be intimidating if you are prepared, and particularly if you are in compliance!  The first three recommendations above are key for any inspection, with asbestos and ODS becoming more relevant if the inspector has authority over the programs.  Regardless, on-going compliance with ALL air quality regulations is important for your facility’s operations and your own peace of mind.  Through our in-house expertise and established partnerships, ALL4 can deliver the high-quality support you need and our team is very interested in talking with you. 

What requirements do you find most challenging for compliance? Leave a comment below or connect via LinkedIn or Twitter.


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