PHA – Ammonia – Evaporators – EPA – $650,000

PHA – Ammonia – Evaporators – EPA – $650,000

Facility uses approximately 16,000 lbs. of anhydrous ammonia as a refrigerant, which subjects it to the Risk Management Plan (RMP). During an EPA inspection in 2019 to support local emergency responders and planners, EPA identified numerous concerns, including that the facility’s evaporators were not protected from potential forklift impacts – even though the company’s own hazard analysis had recommended protecting certain evaporators from impacts.

Subsequently, in April 2020 an ammonia release occurred when a forklift bumped into an evaporator located in a fruit storage room. The company had moved the evaporator to this location after conducting its initial process hazard analysis and had failed to identify the need to protect the evaporator prior to starting its operations. The incident resulted in hundreds of employees being evacuated, a road being shut down, food destroyed, and 14 employees requiring medical evaluation at a local hospital. EPA issued an administrative compliance order to the facility on June 11, 2020, to require the company to correct RMP violations and EPA subsequently referred the case to the Department of Justice. EPA also coordinated with the Occupational Health and Safety Administration, which issued its own citations.

Some of the key violations alleged in the complaint include failure to identify hazards, including from changes made to the facility; failure to timely follow through on recommendations made in the company’s process hazard analysis; failure to document compliance with recognized and generally accepted good engineering practices; and failure to adequately coordinate with local emergency response and planning organizations.

Under the terms of the proposed settlement, facility will pay $650,000 in penalties, implement  specific safety improvements at  the North Kingstown, R.I. location, evaluate whether the facility’s existing safety measures are adequate given employee language barriers, evaluate whether the facility’s location in a storm surge evacuation zone and in an area subject to hurricane-force winds poses risks that should be assessed, and conduct safety audits of the ammonia refrigeration systems at 19 other facilities in the corporate family nationwide. The company completed most of the compliance work needed at the Rhode Island facility after EPA issued its compliance order in 2020.