US EPA logoUSA: A cold storage firm will pay fines of $108,000 and complete $345,000 of environmental projects for alleged violations of laws to prevent ammonia leaks.

Cold Storage Solutions Inc of Lakeville, Massachusetts, and three related companies have agreed to make significant safety upgrades to their facilities, enhancing public health protection in the community, as part of a settlement with EPA for alleged violations of laws designed to prevent the accidental releases of hazardous chemicals at four of its refrigerated warehouses.

The companies were charged in four separate complaints with violating chemical accident prevention provisions of the Clean Air Act that apply to the use of anhydrous ammonia at the warehouses. In addition, three of the four companies failed to file chemical inventory reports required by the federal Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act.

The companies are: Cold Storage Solutions, Inc, Cold Storage Solutions I, Inc, Cold Storage Solutions II, Inc and Cold Storage Solutions III, Inc. At each of the warehouses, the refrigeration system uses ammonia to refrigerate food, primarily seafood and cranberry products.

The facilities are located next to train tracks, within a third of a mile of an interstate highway and within 1.5 miles of downtown Middleborough, two elementary schools, and a supermarket.

An EPA inspection in February 2012 identified potentially dangerous conditions relating to the ammonia refrigeration systems at each facility. Inspectors witnessed an accidental release of anhydrous ammonia at one facility, causing the inspectors to cut the inspection of that building short, evacuate the area, and contact emergency response authorities.

The settlement requires the companies to take a number of safety measures including the installation of a computerised control and monitoring system at one of the facilities and a requirement to provide emergency equipment to local and regional first responders.

The refrigeration system capacities at the four companies range from 5,000 to 9,000lb of ammonia. Under the US Clean Air Act, systems containing fewer than 10,000lb of ammonia must take steps to identify hazards, prevent chemical releases and minimise the effect of any releases that do occur. The agreement resolves claims that, at each facility, the companies violated these three duties.

Three of the companies had also failed to submit emergency and hazardous chemical inventory forms, required by the federal Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act, reporting the amount of ammonia in each system and the amount of sulphuric acid in forklift batteries. Failure of a facility to file hazardous chemical inventory forms puts emergency responders at risk, since they rely on these forms to make them aware of the presence and amount of hazardous chemicals at a facility.

Following the inspection, EPA ordered the companies to comply with the Clean Air Act and then followed with complaints seeking penalties. The companies cooperated with EPA’s orders and in settling the penalty claims. EPA re-inspected the facilities in August 2013 and found many deficiencies had been corrected, but others were not fully resolved. The companies have since corrected all the deficiencies except one, which they have agreed to address and report back to EPA by July 1.

Specifically, EPA found the following safety deficiencies, among others: a lack of critical documents and information about the refrigeration systems, which makes it difficult for operators, inspectors, and emergency responders to understand the functioning, capacity, and risks posed by the systems; lack of adequate ventilation systems, which can cause ammonia vapours to build up to hazardous levels during a release; lack of signs and labels on equipment and piping in addition to a lack of posted information about the systems’ operation and shutdown process; failure to keep the ammonia machinery rooms free of flammable material, which increases the risk of a fire or explosion; failure to protect ammonia equipment and piping from forklift impacts; failure to have emergency eyewash and shower stations; failure to protect piping or support systems from corrosion, which increases the risk of a release; failure to properly place ammonia relief valves discharges and pressure-relief vent pipes, which increases the risk that emergency responders and workers could be sprayed with ammonia during a release; failure to have emergency shutdown switches outside machinery room doors, which impedes a quick and safe response to any release; failure to have adequate ammonia detectors or alarms; and failure to develop adequate emergency response plans.