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AQD Rule 290: Handle with Care

Last summer, we wrote about waivers of approval to begin installing equipment prior to acquiring an air Permit-to-Install (PTI). While waivers can prove to be quite useful, they take a backseat to installing under an exemption; and the list of exempt equipment is long (17 pages in fact). The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality’s (MDEQ) Air Quality Division (AQD) is quite generous with their exemption list as they aren’t interested in processing applications and maintaining permits for insignificant sources. Although the list is long, sometimes only one exemption fits: Rule 290, emission units with limited emissions.

Rule 290 allows emission units to operate without a permit if actual monthly emissions don’t exceed limits prescribed in the rule. The emission limits are based on the toxicity of the emitted compounds. Essentially, the more toxic the compound is, the lower the limit. For years, the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) was the primary source of material composition data. While AQD rarely ask for testing of specific compounds (unlike VOCs), people relied on MSDSs to determine which compounds are emitted to document compliance with the Rule 290 limits. In the past few years, however, MSDSs have been replaced in favor of Safety Data Sheets (SDSs) in order to comply with OSHA rules that MSDSs be made GHS-compliant.

As they trickled in, companies started replacing the MSDSs with the SDSs. This is considered a safety document and was maintained by the employee responsible for managing safety. This is potentially bad news for the Rule 290 exemption users, especially if other equipment at the location is operating under a PTI. You’ll be subject to an inspection, Rule 290 will be scrutinized, and your records may be out of date if they’re based on MSDS data.

As an example, we’ve seen an MSDS with a six compound ingredient list morph into a 13 compound SDS. If even one of these surprise compounds exceeds the toxicity limit in Rule 290, the company is in violation of Rule 201 for operating without a permit. This is one of the worst rules to violate. If a company already holds a permit, the discovery of these new compounds would be a violation of Rule 225 for air toxics, which is much less onerous. Unsurprisingly, we’ve found that it is often much easier to operate under a PTI, which can be much more generous than Rule 290 and also require less record keeping.

One other Rule 290 thought. AQD will look dimly on using Rule 290 to begin operation without a permit if a permit will be eventually needed (e.g., don’t install/operate for a short period of time prior to entering the permit process). Instead, employing a different strategy may be the best option, like using waivers, or even better yet, apply early.

CFR Environmental has a long track record of providing support related to air permitting, compliance, and reporting projects for the petroleum and chemical industry, including expertise in Rule 290. Our expertise includes Renewable Operating Permits (ROP), Permits to Install (PTI) and Potential to Emit (PTE) projects for compliance with state and federal regulations. Contact CFR to learn more about our air consulting services.

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