6 April 2013

US food processor to pay $3.95m after catalogue of ammonia leaks

USA: One of the world's largest food processors is to pay a $3.95m penalty following ammonia releases at its facilities in Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, and Nebraska, resulting in multiple injuries, property damage, and one fatality.
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the US Department of Justice announced a Clean Air Act settlement with Tyson Foods Inc and several of its affiliate corporations to address threats of accidental chemical releases.

Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for EPA's Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance said that the settlement with Tyson Foods would ensure that the proper safety practices were in place in the future to protect employees, first responders, and communities located near processing facilities from the threat of dangerous chemical releases.

Under the terms of the consent decree, Tyson is required to conduct third-party audits of its current compliance at all 23 facilities in Kansas, Iowa, Missouri, and Nebraska. Tyson has also agreed to test certain piping used in its refrigeration systems at the facilities to identify any problems that may have led to accidental releases and to replace any non-compliant piping.

In addition to the $3.95m penalty, Tyson has also agreed to purchase $300,000 worth of emergency response equipment for first responders in communities with significant environmental justice concerns in which Tyson operates facilities.

The 23 Tyson facilities each contain more than 10,000 pounds of anhydrous ammonia and a combined inventory of more than 1.7 million pounds of the refrigerant.

Tyson Foods Inc was founded in 1935 with its headquarters in Springdale, Arkansas. It is the world's largest processor and marketer of chicken, beef and pork, the second largest food production company in the Fortune 500 and a member of the S&P 500. Tyson has revenues of more than $5.2bn and employs approximately 117,000 people at 400 facilities across America.

The proposed settlement is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval.

The violations relate to a number of incidents from 2006 to 2010.

An ammonia leak at Tyson's South Hutchinson, Kansas, factory in October 2006 resulted in one fatality and one injury. An OSHA investigation revealed that personal protective equipment was inadequate and that the safety relief valve that failed was installed incorrectly, and was corroded and worn.

In November 2006, an ammonia release at Tyson's Sedalia, Missouri, facility resulted in three onsite injuries and $125,000 in property damage.

In December 2006, an anhydrous ammonia release occurred at Tyson's Hutchinson, Kansas plant resulting in ten injuries and 43.71lb of ammonia migrating off-site. An OSHA inspection revealed that the vibration on the filter housing caused threads to deteriorate, allowing the filter oil seal to fail.

Later the same month, an anhydrous ammonia release occurred at Tyson's Omaha facility resulted in five on-site injuries and the evacuation of 475 employees. Inspections revealed that Tyson's mechanical integrity programme relative to the replacement of the failed valve was not implemented and there was no documentation of the inspection, testing or five-year replacement of the safety relief valve.

On October 2007 and November 2009, there were anhydrous ammonia releases at the Perry, Iowa, facility that injured the same employee. Tyson blamed the October incident on operator error alleging that the employee failed to lock out the ammonia line when initiating a line break and failure to follow SOPs for proper personal protective equipment. However, it was also noted in incident investigation that there was a three-way safety relief valve failure.

In October 2007 there was an anhydrous ammonia release at the Sioux City, Iowa factory that resulted in one injury and the release of 3,867lbs of ammonia.

In November 2009 the same employee was exposed to anhydrous ammonia, burned over 25% of his body and spent 45 days in the hospital. Again, Tyson blamed the operator and cited four operator errors in the incident investigation report: failure to pump out/lock out; failure to utilise a line breaking permit; lack of use of PPE; and failure to follow proper hand valve opening and closing SOP guidelines. However, OSHA found that there was a broken and/or defective reducer in the safety relief valve that should not have been there and that lead to the valve failure.

In December 2010, an anhydrous ammonia release occurred at the Madison, Nebraska, facility resulting in three injuries and a release of 309lbs of ammonia. Tyson states in its May 23, 2011, response to EPA's Information Request that given the date of the incident; the incident investigation is still open. The point of discharge was from a pressure relief valve header on the roof.

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