U.S. EPA settles with Dole for Clean Air Act violation and failing to immediately notify authorities after a chemical release
SAN FRANCISCO – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently fined Dole Packaged Foods, LLC $86,930 for failing to immediately report an ammonia chemical release and lacking written operating procedures for the refrigeration system at its Atwater, Calif. facility.
Also negotiated in this settlement, Dole will spend $53,000 on emergency response equipment for the Merced County Department of Environmental Health and the Merced County Fire Department and spend $12,000 to sponsor a one-day safety and compliance training on ammonia refrigeration systems for industry attendees.
“Today’s action goes beyond paying a penalty, it will provide emergency equipment to local emergency responders, and valuable compliance information to the regulated community” said Keith Takata, the EPA’s Superfund director for the Pacific Southwest region. “When a business fails to quickly provide critical information to authorities, a community’s ability to respond during an emergency may suffer"
Dole failed to immediately notify the National Response Center, the California Office of Emergency Services and the Merced County Department of Environmental Health after an estimated 477 pounds of ammonia leaked from the facility located at 7916 West Bellevue Rd. in July 2006. The reportable quantity is 100 pounds.
The release resulted from a pressure build up in a closed valve that was not opened after the refrigeration system had been shut down for maintenance. Dole reported the release more than three hours late, and did not have written standard operating procedures for the ammonia refrigeration system where the release occurred – a violation of the Clean Air Act.
Federal law requires immediate notification of a reportable release to enable emergency response teams to evaluate the hazardous substance release and prevent exposure. Under the Clean Air Act, facilities are required to have procedures to prevent and mitigate potential accidental releases.
Exposure to high concentrations of ammonia can cause severe burns on the skin, eyes, throat and lungs. Breathing low levels of ammonia can cause coughing, as well as nose and throat irritation. Ammonia also plays a role in the formation of particulate air pollution, which has been linked to numerous health problems, including chronic bronchitis and lung disease.
Further information about the Emergency Planning and Community Right-To-Know Act (EPCRA) and hazardous substance release notification requirements may be obtained by calling the U.S. EPA’s toll-free number at (800) 424-9346.
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