USA: A poultry farm will pay a $242,980 civil penalty and perform two local environmental projects valued at nearly $200,000 after violating ammonia regulations.

The settlement with Pitman Farms Inc of Sanger, California, was announced by the US EPA for violations of federal chemical safety and reporting requirements following three ammonia releases at its poultry processing facility. 

The EPA says its action is a result of an inspection in November 2014 that uncovered violations of the federal Clean Air Act’s Risk Management Programme, designed to prevent the accidental release of extremely hazardous substances to the air. The inspection was prompted by a release of 2,700lb (1,225kg) of anhydrous ammonia at the facility in September 2014 that led to the hospitalisation of 15 employees. Additional smaller releases of anhydrous ammonia occurred in May 2016 and July 2016. Each of those incidents resulted in the medical treatment of four employees.

“Companies using hazardous chemicals must take steps to ensure the safety of nearby residents and their workers,” said Alexis Strauss, EPA’s acting regional administrator for the Pacific Southwest. “We appreciate Pitman Farms’ recent efforts to install new refrigeration equipment to reduce the chance of ammonia releases,” he added.

During its inspection, EPA found that Pitman Farms violated the risk management programme regulations by failing to train employees, not ensuring that employees were properly fitted for personal protective equipment, failing to document that all ammonia process equipment complied with industry standards, such as labelling ammonia refrigeration system pipes, and not performing annual inspections and tests of the ammonia refrigeration system.

The EPA says the company also failed to promptly address all recommendations made in its incident investigation report after the September 2014 release and didn’t immediately notify the National Response Center and the California Office of Emergency Services as soon as it knew of the releases.

Under the settlement, Pitman Farms will spend $194,950 on environmental projects to support emergency planning and preparedness efforts in the Sanger area and larger Fresno County communities. In addition, the company will upgrade its facility by installing centralised safety controls to provide rapid detection and control of anhydrous ammonia releases.

Pitman Farms has also installed a new state-of-the-art ammonia refrigeration system and filed a revised risk management plan for the new system, which became operational in August 2016.