By Heidi Slinkard Brasher
A California meat processor who had two reportable ammonia releases from its refrigeration system in 2009 is not only paying $850,000 in civil monetary penalties, it has also entered a consent decree with the EPA and Department of Justice requiring it to undergo a $6 million conversion of its ammonia refrigeration system to an ammonia-glycol refrigerant system, among other things.
According to the consent decree, the first release was the result of corrosion of the copper/brass fittings which connected a pressure control switch with stainless steel tubing. After the incident, much of the system was moved from inside the facility to the roof. However, in doing so piping was not properly labeled, management of change (MOC) analysis was not undertaken, and a pre-startup safety review prior to introducing ammonia to the relocated components did not occur.
Six months later, a second release occurred at the same facility – this time on the roof and due to a hydrostatic pressure buildup which caused an access flange of the strainer to fail at the inlet of the evaporator pressure regulator (caused by a valve group configuration design flaw). After the release, a contractor used water in an effort to mitigate the release; however, this increased the vapor cloud, which traveled to adjacent buildings.
The emergency response necessitated evacuation from some buildings and orders to shelter-in-place in others, along with closure of several local roads and entrances/exits to nearby highways for several hours. This second release injured 30, hospitalizing 17.
Following the releases, the EPA inspected another facility within the company and found additional violations. The company and the EPA reached an argument on February 23, 2010, which the DOJ published notice of in the February 9, 2012 Federal Register (77 Fed. Reg. 6822).
The consent decree alleges that the company:
- Failed to notify the National Response Center (NRC) or State Emergency Response Committee (SERC) for more than five hours following each reportable release;
- Failed to submit a Risk Management Plan (RMP) for one facility until 11 months after it reached the threshold quantity (10,000 pounds) to be regulated as a stationary source under the Clean Air Act (CAA);
- Established a required Process Hazards Analysis (PHA) in
2007, but failed to establish system to promptly address the
20 recommendations by 2010, in violation of the CAA;
- Failed to establish and implement requisite written operating
procedures for performing covered tasks for safe operation
of the refrigeration system, and those which were written
were maintained off-site and were not readily accessible to
- Failed to maintain written mechanical integrity procedures
In addition to the $658,446 civil penalty, the company has agreed to be bound by injunctive relief estimated to cost more than $6 million, which requires the company to do the following:
- Convert current ammonia system to an ammonia-glycol
refrigerant system, consistent with specified requirements
set forth in the consent decree (material deviation from
which is prohibited);
- Ammonia to be wholly contained in one building and used
only to chill the glycol, which will be circulated through the
refrigeration system instead of ammonia;
- Install a scrubber system to treat exhaust due to a release in
the building housing the ammonia;
- Meet the CAA’s general duty clause to identify potential
hazards due to a release using hazard assessment techniques,
design and maintain a safe facility by taking steps to prevent
releases, minimize accidental release consequences, and
comply with various cited industry standards; and
- Conduct approved third-party audits of compliance with
Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act
(EPCRA), California Accidental Release Program (CalARP)
and the CAA general duty clause within 60 days of converting
systems, with follow-up 18-24 months thereafter, and report
audit findings and responses to the EPA for approval or