Failure to tighten leaking systems running on R-22 has resulted in a $5.25 million fine against a chain of bakeries, in what is believed to be the largest single penalty to date for venting HCFCs.

According to the Capitol Reports publication of Cameron Park, Calif., the Justice Department and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the fine as part of “a settlement that resolves significant ozone-depletion violations.”

The two government agencies said the violations were made by Earthgrains Baking Companies, Metz Baking Co., Earthgrains Refrigerated Dough Products, and Coppersmith, which operated collectively as Earthgrains. (Sara Lee Corp. purchased the companies during the government’s investigation.)

The Government’s Findings

The complaint charged that Earthgrains refrigeration systems in 57 of its 67 facilities “leaked refrigerants in excess of the 35 percent annualized leak rate permitted by the relevant regulation and that Earthgrains failed to make prompt, proper repairs.” In all, more than 300 systems, several of which were said to have more than 1,000 pounds of refrigerant, were investigated.

In addition to paying the fine, the company is required “to convert all of its industrial process refrigeration appliances to refrigerant systems that do not deplete the ozone layer.” (Translation: Move to an alternative refrigerant such as an HFC or ammonia.) The EPA estimated that conversion will cost more than $5 million.

Government officials were quick to proclaim the action an example of continued diligence on the part of federal agencies to enforce Title VI of the Clean Air Act.

“This case addresses pollution that has a global impact and displays the Justice Department’s aggressive pursuit of those who commit illegal acts that degrade the ozone layer,” said Thomas Sansonetti, assistant attorney general. “This settlement demonstrates our unwavering commitment to hold accountable polluters who gain a competitive advantage when they shirk their responsibility to comply with laws that protect public health.”

Added the EPA’s John Peter Suarez, assistant administrator for Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, “This settlement is evidence to the fact that such widespread patterns of illegal conduct that degrade the ozone layer will be met with vigorous enforcement by the United States.”

Locations of facilities cited were Fort Payne, Dothan, Mobile, Huntsville, and Birmingham in Alabama; Forest Park, Rome, and Atlanta, in Georgia; Chattanooga, Memphis, Knoxville, and Nashville in Tennessee; London, Owensboro, and Louisville in Kentucky; Meridian, Miss.; Valdese, N.C.; Orangeburg, S.C.; Huntington, W.V.; Chicago, Rockford, and Rock Island in Illinois; Roseville and Fergus Falls in Minnesota; Eau Claire, La Crosse, Milwaukee, and Madison in Wisconsin; Detroit, Marquette, and Grand Rapids in Michigan; Oklahoma City; Carrolton, El Paso, Houston, Lubbock, San Antonio, Dallas, Arlington, and Paris in Texas; two facilities in Albuquerque, N.M.; Hutchinson and Wichita in Kansas; Des Moines, Dubuque, and Sioux City in Iowa; St. Louis, Springfield, and Kansas City in Missouri; Beatrice, Bellevue, Hastings, and South Sioux City in Nebraska; Sioux Falls and Watertown in South Dakota; Salt Lake City; Denver and Grand Junction in Colorado; Phoenix and Tucson in Arizona; and Sacramento, Fresno, Oakland, Stockton, Redding, and San Luis Obispo in California.

Manufacturer Fined

In an unrelated announcement made at the same time as the bakery development, Capitol Reports said Justice and EPA announced a settlement with DuPont involving the accidental release of hydrogen fluoride in May 1997 at a fluoroproducts plant in Louisville.

The fine was said to be $550,000 in civil penalties. It was reported that DuPont also agreed to perform eight Supplemental Environmental Projects (SEP) valued at $552,000. Those involve providing emergency response equipment, local emergency training, a “green” buffer zone between the facility and the surrounding area, and other environmental activities.

The 1997 incident resulted, according to reports, “while using pressurized steam in an attempt to clean a blocked valve in the discharge pipe of a 1,1-difluoroethane reactor” that goes to another reactor. “Workers blew out the valve, resulting in the immediate release of a high-pressure steam into the ambient air.”

The facility was temporarily shut down and evacuated, as were four nearby chemical manufacturing plants.

Publication date: 08/18/2003