Rhode Island Companies Using Ammonia Refrigeration Penalized by EPA for Violations of General Duty Clause

Rhode Island Companies Using Ammonia Refrigeration Penalized by EPA for Violations of General Duty Clause

EPA headquarters in Washington, D.C.
EPA headquarters in Washington, D.C.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced that it has settled claims with two Rhode Island companies that use ammonia (R744) refrigeration systems for violations regarding the safe handling of hazardous substances under section 112 (r)(1) of the Clean Air Act, known as the General Duty Clause.

The two cited companies, Bottling Group in Cranston and Seafreeze in North Kingstown, operate with refrigeration systems using less than 10,000lbs (4,536kg) of anhydrous ammonia. Both companies had violations associated with failure to minimize the consequences of an accidental release. Seafreeze was also cited for failure to design and maintain a safe facility.

“EPA’s actions underscore the paramount importance of safely managing hazardous substances like anhydrous ammonia,” said David W. Cash, EPA New England Regional Administrator, in a press release. “These cases vividly illustrate the critical necessity of complying with chemical accident planning, prevention, and mitigation requirements.”

Bottling Group

The beverage manufacturing and storage company, Bottling Group, and its affiliates Pepsi Beverages and CB Manufacturing have agreed to pay a penalty of $96,852 (€88,437) for violations regarding the safe handling of ammonia at the Pepsi Cranston facility, the EPA said.

In its refrigeration system, the Cranston facility uses approximately 5,800lbs (2,631kg) of anhydrous ammonia in a mixed-use area in two buildings covering 220,000ft2 (20,439m2). A hospital and a prison are within a mile (1.6km) of the facility, along with residences, state office buildings and businesses.

During an inspection, the EPA observed several violations inside and outside the ammonia refrigeration machinery rooms (AMR) that would fail to minimize the consequences of an accidental release. These violations included:

  • inadequate ammonia release alarms;
  • no emergency ventilation override switches;
  • no eyewash and safety showers outside of the primary AMR entrance; and
  • a risk of spraying people with ammonia due to pressure release valves discharging horizontally or downwards.

In addition to paying the penalty, “the companies have agreed to conduct audits at the Cranston facility and at 13 other ammonia refrigeration facilities in the corporate family to ensure compliance with minimum safety requirements,” the EPA said.

Seafreeze

As a fish processing and cold storage company, Seafreeze has agreed to pay a penalty of $122,622 (€111,967) to settle violations of federal laws regulating the safe handling of ammonia at its North Kingstown facility, the EPA said.

The company’s refrigeration system uses approximately 8,700lbs (3,946kg) of anhydrous ammonia. The facility is adjacent to Narragansett Bay and within 1.5mi (2.4km) of an elementary school, a small airport and residential housing.

The EPA conducted an inspection of the Seafreeze facility after three ammonia releases ‒ all below the reportable quantity of 100lbs (45kg) ‒ occurred over six months due to system “cracks and leaks.” Alleged violations under the Clean Air Act included “a failure to design and maintain a safe facility and to minimize consequences of accidental releases that do occur,” the EPA said.

In addition, Seafreeze has agreed to evaluate its potential risks due to its location in a hurricane evacuation zone and update its process hazard review accordingly by February 1, the agency noted. 

“When companies fail to adhere to safety obligations, it jeopardizes safety in our communities,” Cash said. “EPA’s mission [seeks] to safeguard all communities from chemical releases, [including] vulnerabilities associated with facilities situated in populated or hurricane-prone areas.”

Regulating hazardous chemicals

The General Duty Clause of the Clean Air Act makes the owners and operators of facilities with regulated hazardous substances such as ammonia responsible for managing chemicals safely, “regardless of size or quantity,” said Tony Lundell, Senior Director of Standards and Safety, International Institute of Ammonia Refrigeration (IIAR), in a webinar.

Last spring, the EPA notified IIAR that “one area of [its] focus is to determine whether facilities using hazardous chemicals have conducted a hazardous analysis,” Lundell said.

“Anhydrous ammonia is an efficient refrigerant with low GWP; [however,] exposure to 300 parts per million is immediately dangerous to life and health,” the EPA said. Moreover, it can be flammable at given concentrations and even explode in confined spaces when exposed to an ignition source.

“Steps required under the General Duty Clause help prevent accidental releases of extremely hazardous substances and reduce the severity of releases that occur,” the EPA noted. “Failure of a facility to identify hazards, design and maintain a safe facility, and take steps to limit and mitigate the harm from accidental releases of extremely hazardous substances puts the local population and environment at risk.”

“These cases vividly illustrate the critical necessity of complying with chemical accident planning, prevention, and mitigation requirements.”

David W. Cash, EPA New England Regional Administrator

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