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EPA proposes penalty for milk plant in Laurel, Md.


The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has proposed a $282,871 penalty against the operators of a milk processing plant in Laurel, Md., for failing to report an accidental release of at least 400 pounds of ammonia from the plantís refrigeration system in July 2006.

EPA alleges that Maryland & Virginia Milk Producers Cooperative Association, Inc., which owns and operates the Laurel plant, violated federal requirements for hazardous chemical reporting when it failed to immediately report the ammonia release to local, state and federal emergency management agencies. The accidental release occurred while conducting maintenance on the plantís refrigeration compressors. The milk cooperative also failed to provide follow-up reports to state and local emergency officials.

EPA regulations require companies nationwide to immediately report releases of reportable quantities of hazardous substances to the National Response Center (NRC), the State Emergency Planning Commission (SERC) and the Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC). The reportable quantity for ammonia is 100 pounds. The NRC, staffed by the U.S. Coast Guard, is the national point of contact for reporting oil and hazardous chemical spills. In Maryland, companies are required to report incidents to the state Department of the Environment. The release in Laurel should also have been reported to the Howard County office of emergency management.

Subsequent to the ammonia release, EPA conducted an inspection and determined that the facility had not complied with emergency preparedness and community right-to-know requirements, which help employees, local fire, police and emergency responders prepare for and respond to chemical incidents. The milk facility had not submitted a risk management plan to EPA that would have included a hazard assessment, a prevention program and an emergency response program. These reporting and planning requirements are important to protecting public health and the environment.

Maryland & Virginia Milk Producers Cooperative Association Inc., headquartered in Reston, Va., markets milk for its estimated 1,500 dairy farmers throughout the mid-Atlantic and southeast regions of the United States. The cooperative has the right to a hearing to contest EPAís alleged violations and proposed penalty.


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