The Environmental Protection Agency''s (EPA) Region 5 has filed an administrative complaint against Ventura Foods LLC of Albert Lea, Minn., for violation of federal laws on the reporting of a hazardous chemical release and failure to maintain required hazardous chemical records. The proposed fine is $302,528.
EPA alleges that on Aug. 30, 1998, one of the company''s facilities failed to promptly report the release of approximately 1,000 pounds to 1,500 pounds of ammonia into the air. Federal laws require immediate notification to the National Response Center and the State Emergency Response Commission upon any release of ammonia exceeding 100 pounds.
The release was reported to the National Response Center on Aug. 31, nearly 24 hours after the incident occurred, and to the Minnesota Emergency Response Commission (MERC) about 23 hours after the release occurred. As of Jan. 6, 1999, Ventura Foods had also failed to provide written follow-up report to MERC, 130 days after the incident.
The release allegedly occurred when an interruption in power caused portions of the refrigeration system to shut down. Without cooling, pressure in the ammonia system began to rise, causing its pressure relief valves to open and shut intermittently.
The company was also cited for failure to provide completed emergency and hazardous chemical inventory forms to MERC and the Albert Lea Fire Department for 1996 and 1997.
Ammonia may be fatal if inhaled, causes burns to the skin and eyes, and can lead to respiratory tract irritation and blindness.
"Compliance with chemical reporting laws is critical, because fire departments, hospitals and other authorities must have the necessary information to respond appropriately when a release occurs," regional Superfund Director William Muno said.
Ventura Foods may request a meeting with EPA within 30 days to discuss or contest the matter.
by Todd Nighswonger