BOSTON — A Chicopee, Massachusetts, cold storage warehouse that utilizes ammonia refrigeration is spending more than half a million dollars, primarily on public safety enhancements, to resolve claims it violated the federal Clean Air Act’s chemical release prevention requirements in its handling of ammonia at the facility.
In an agreement with the New England office of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Pioneer Valley Refrigerated Warehouse (aka Pioneer Cold) agreed to pay $41,000 in penalties and to spend $322,100 on environmental projects meant to improve the safety of the surrounding community. The company has already spent more than $158,000 to bring its facility into compliance with the Risk Management Program (RMP) regulations under the Clean Air Act.
The environmental projects are designed to reduce the likelihood of an ammonia release as well as limit the severity of any ammonia release that might occur. The settlement requires Pioneer to upgrade certain refrigeration equipment to a more protective model and to install a computerized control system at the facility. Pioneer Cold will replace two ammonia liquid pumps at the facility with hermetically sealed pumps, which nearly eliminates the potential for ammonia releases from pump failure. The computerized controls will help detect problems earlier, helping to prevent a release and minimizing the consequences of any release that does occur.
The settlement is also designed to improve emergency planning and response capabilities in the community surrounding the facility. Pioneer Cold will provide emergency response equipment to emergency responders within the city of Chicopee. The equipment includes two types of gas detectors, and requires funding for five years for calibrating the units. The company will also contract with a consultant to develop and conduct a table-top exercise program for company employees and members of the Chicopee Fire Department to discuss their roles during an emergency and their responses to particular emergency scenarios.
The EPA action resulted from a Commonwealth of Massachusetts “Urban Compliance Initiative” and followed a referral from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) for concerns outside of state jurisdiction. MassDEP officials joined EPA on the December 2012 inspection on-site at Pioneer. In January 2013 the state issued a $33,718 penalty against Pioneer for failure to notify the state of a release of anhydrous ammonia in August 2008 and for failure to respond to a request for information about that release.
According to the inspection, Pioneer failed to comply with management requirements of the RMP regulations; failed to accurately evaluate off-site consequences in release scenarios; failed to adequately identify, evaluate, and control hazards; failed to comply with safety information, operating procedures, training, mechanical integrity, compliance audit, and contractor requirements; and failed to have an adequate emergency response program.
“Ammonia refrigeration facilities must remain aware of the risks associated with the use of this chemical. While ammonia is an efficient refrigerant with environmental advantages, the associated risks mean that companies need to be certain they are operating safely by carefully following federal and state standards,” said Curt Spalding, regional administrator of EPA’s New England office.
“I am very pleased by the work done by MassDEP’s Western Regional Office as part of our Urban Compliance Initiative, which identified this issue,” said MassDEP Commissioner Martin Suuberg. “The improvements at Pioneer Cold not only ensure compliance at this facility, but it also enhances the city’s emergency response capabilities to protect all residents and greatly reduces the risk to residents in the neighborhood of release of anhydrous ammonia.”
Facilities operating systems with more than 10,000 pounds of anhydrous ammonia are subject to the RMP regulations, while smaller refrigeration systems are subject to the “General Duty Clause” of Section 112(r)(1) of the Clean Air Act.
For more information on the Clean Air Act Section 112(r) RMP regulations, go to www.epa.gov/emergencies/content/rmp/index.htm.
Publication date: 8/19/2015