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EPA Continues to Target Food Warehousing and Distribution for Clean Air Act 112(r) Enforcement

Businesses that use commercial refrigeration systems, such as cold storage, retail grocers, wholesale food distribution, and related warehousing and transportation companies, continue to face enforcement scrutiny from EPA regarding the use and storage of the refrigerant anhydrous ammonia. In particular, companies that store more than 10,000 lbs. of anhydrous ammonia are required to comply with EPA’s Risk Management Program (RMP) regulations under the Clean Air Act Section 112(r), 40 CFR Part 68.

EPA Region 1 and the U.S. Department of Justice recently settled an RMP enforcement case with C&S Wholesale Grocers, Inc., in Hatfield, Massachusetts, that involved a $126,700 civil penalty and a Supplemental Environmental Project (SEP) valued at $10,405. The settlement stemmed from allegations that the food distributor, among other things, failed to maintain process safety information (PSI) and lacked adequate emergency operating procedures and emergency shutdown and response procedures. EPA launched an investigation following a release of anhydrous ammonia in 2007 that sent 13 individuals to the hospital and the evacuation of nearby residences, although no serious injuries occurred. EPA’s action serves as a timely reminder that the agency treats offsite releases of chemicals with heightened response and enforcement.

Anhydrous ammonia is frequently used as a refrigerant in food distribution and warehousing operations. In addition, it serves as a common farm fertilizer sold by farm supply companies, farm cooperatives (co-ops), and related agricultural businesses. If your company uses or stores anhydrous ammonia as a commercial refrigerant or as a fertilizer, now is the time to ensure that your operations comply with EPA’s RMP regulations.

EPA’s focus on RMP compliance at food distribution companies is part of a larger national focus on warehousing and consumer products enforcement that members of Spencer Fane’s Environmental Practice Group presented as part of a national webinar entitled “EPA’s Warehouse and Consumer Products Enforcement Initiative.” An audio recording of the presentation and copies of the handouts may be downloaded here.