USA: Poultry processor Pitman Farms has reached a settlement with the US EPA totalling nearly $500,000 following three ammonia releases at its facility in Sanger, California.

The company will pay a $242,980 civil penalty and perform two local environmental projects valued at nearly $200,000.

The EPA’s action follows inspections in November 2014 that are said to have uncovered violations of the federal Clean Air Act’s Risk Management Programme. The inspection was prompted by a release of 2,700lb (1,225kg) of ammonia at the facility in September 2014 that led to the hospitalisation of 15 employees. Additional smaller releases of anhydrous ammonia are said to have 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.”

Violations included failing to provide training to employees, not ensuring that employees were properly fitted for personal protective equipment, failing to perform annual inspections of the ammonia refrigeration system and a failure to promptly address all recommendations made in its Incident Investigation Report after the September 2014 release.

EPA inspectors also found that the company failed to immediately notify the National Response Center and the California Office of Emergency Services as soon as it knew of the releases in September 2014 and July 2016.

Settlement

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. The company will purchase and donate emergency response equipment to the Fresno County Hazmat Emergency Response Team and the City of Fresno Fire Department, to assist them in responding to hazardous materials incidents.

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.