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Cheese maker settles ammonia violations

USA: A California-based cheese processing company has agreed to pay over $400,000 following EPA accusations of violations pertaining to its ammonia refrigeration system.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the settlement with Leprino Foods Company for claims of violations of the Clean Air Act, the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act, and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act at the company’s facility in Tracy, California. 

The violation are in regard to the facility’s ammonia refrigeration system that is used for cheese production and storage. Under the settlement, Leprino Foods Company will pay $229,707 in civil penalties and has made significant safety improvements to the facility to come into compliance with federal environmental laws. Leprino Foods Company will also provide emergency response training equipment valued at $179,340 to local first responders.

“To protect workers, first responders and the public, it is paramount that any facility handling dangerous chemicals such as anhydrous ammonia take steps to reduce the risk of releases,” said EPA Pacific Southwest regional administrator Martha Guzman. “We’re encouraged that Leprino Foods Company has invested in making its Tracy facility safer and, as a result of this settlement, will provide first responders with important equipment.”

An EPA inspection in March 2022 determined that the facility’s ammonia refrigeration system was not designed to meet safety standards. The inspection found several deficiencies, including:
Failure to immediately notify the relevant authorities following a release of 109lb (50kg) of ammonia on March 31, 2021;
Inadequate documentation that the facility’s refrigeration system was designed to prevent releases of anhydrous ammonia;
An insufficient operation and maintenance programme for the refrigeration system, resulting in safety issues, such as significant ice accumulation and corrosion; 
Failure to promptly address critical safety recommendations and implement safe work practices for contractors.

In addition to paying a penalty of $229,707, Leprino Foods Company made significant safety improvements to its facility. Safety upgrades included repairs to damaged refrigeration equipment, installation of tight-fitting engine room doors with panic hardware, the connection of all ammonia sensors to a central alarm system, and the addition of safety signage and labelling. Leprino Foods also updated design codes and standards for the main engine room, ensured no pressure relief valves exceed allowable back-pressure requirements, made improvements to a machinery room emergency ventilation system and relief system design, and sealed a gap in an engine room wall so it is tight-fitting.

Leprino Foods Company will also provide $179,340 worth of emergency response training equipment to its local emergency responder, the South San Joaquin County Fire Authority. Equipment includes a drone with hazardous material sensing capabilities, equipment and software that simulates hazardous material incidents, and training props.

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