Tyson Foods Pays $3.95M Penalty for Ammonia Accidents

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States News Service

April 8, 2013

Tyson Foods, Inc., has agreed to pay a $3,950,000 civil penalty to settle alleged violations of Clean Air Act regulations covering the prevention of chemical accidents at its facilities in Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska, the Justice Department and Environmental Protection Agency announced today.

As part of a consent decree lodged today in U.S. District Court in St. Louis, Mo., Tyson has agreed to conduct pipe-testing and third-party audits of its ammonia refrigeration systems to improve compliance with the Clean Air Act's Risk Management Program requirements at all 23 of the company's facilities in the four Midwestern states.

Those facilities include Tyson operations in Cherokee, Columbus Junction, Council Bluffs, Denison, Perry, Sioux City, Storm Lake and Waterloo in Iowa; Emporia, Finney County, Olathe, South Hutchinson and Hutchinson in Kansas; Concordia, Dexter, Monett, Montgomery City, Noel and Sedalia in Missouri; and Dakota City, Lexington, Madison and Omaha in Nebraska.

The settlement stems from a series of eight separate incidents between 2006 and 2010 in which accidental releases of anhydrous ammonia at Tyson facilities resulted in property damage, multiple injuries, and one fatality.

Through a series of inspections and information requests, EPA found multiple occasions of noncompliance with the Clean Air Act's chemical accident prevention provisions at Tyson's facilities. Dating back to October 2006, those violations included failures to follow the general industry standards to test or replace safety relief valves, improperly co-located gas-fired boilers and ammonia machinery, as well as failures to abide by the Clean Air Act's Risk Management Program prevention and reporting requirements.

Tyson, headquartered in Springdale, AR, is the world's largest processor and marketer of chicken, beef and pork.

Tyson's 23 facilities listed in the consent decree are subject to the Clean Air Act's Risk Management Program requirements because their refrigeration systems each contain more than 10,000 pounds of anhydrous ammonia. The facilities have a combined inventory of more than 1.7 million pounds of the chemical.

EPA Region 7 regularly analyzes the accident history of industrial facilities in our four states that are covered by the Risk Management Program regulations, Regional Administrator Karl Brooks said. These studies have shown that ammonia refrigeration facilities have a higher accident rate than other processes. As a result, we focus a significant portion of our inspection resources on these high risk facilities. The vast majority of these accidents are preventable.

Exposure to anhydrous ammonia can cause serious health issues, and in extreme cases, even death, said Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for EPA's Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. Today's settlement with Tyson Foods will ensure the proper safety practices are in place in the future to protect employees, first responders and communities located near processing facilities from the threat of dangerous chemical releases.

This settlement will protect workers at Tyson facilities throughout Kansas, Iowa, Missouri, and Nebraska that use anhydrous ammonia, and make the communities surrounding these 23 facilities safer, said Ignacia S. Moreno, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division. It will also provide emergency response equipment for first responders to chemical releases. The requirements of this agreement, which include comprehensive third-party audits, will help mitigate the impact of releases of anhydrous ammonia by ensuring compliance with the Risk Management Program under the Clean Air Act.

In 2005, with a goal of preventing accidents and helping regulated entities understand their obligations in accordance with environmental laws, EPA Region 7 published an Accident Prevention and Response Manual for Anhydrous Ammonia Refrigeration System Operators. That guide, now in its third edition, is available online at www.epa.gov/region7/toxics/pdf/accident_prevention_ammonia_refrigeration.pdf.

Anhydrous ammonia is considered a poisonous gas but is commonly used in industrial refrigeration systems. Exposure to its vapors can cause temporary blindness and eye damage and irritation of the skin, mouth, throat, respiratory tract and mucous membranes. Prolonged exposure to anhydrous ammonia vapor at high concentrations can lead to serious lung damage and death.

In addition to the $3.95 million penalty, pipe-testing and third-party audits, Tyson will also spend at least $300,000 as part of a Supplemental Environmental Project that will purchase anhydrous ammonia related emergency response equipment for fire departments in eight environmental justice communities where the company's operations are located: Council Bluffs, IA, $78,990; Perry, IA, $72,156; Dexter, MO, $25,795; Monett, MO, $26,855; Noel, MO, $35,829; Dakota City, NE, $16,630; Lexington, NE, $25,858; and Omaha, NE, $17,934.

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