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News Releases from Region 02

EPA Completes $500,000 of Work in Response to Toxic Ammonia Threat in Vineland, N.J.

9,700 Pounds of Ammonia that Threatened the Surrounding Community Safely Removed

Contact Information: 
Elias Rodriguez (rodriguez.elias@epa.gov)

(New York, N.Y. - Aug. 25, 2016) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has completed its work to safely remove anhydrous ammonia from the South Jersey Ice and Cold Storage and Vineland Ice and Storage LLC facility and protect the community near the 544 East Pear Street in Vineland, N.J. facility. In total, the EPA removed over 9,700 pounds of anhydrous ammonia, a toxic substance, effectively eliminating the immediate public threat. The EPA worked closely with the City of Vineland, the County of Cumberland and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection to take urgent action to protect the surrounding community and workers from a potential release of anhydrous ammonia from the facility, which was in a deteriorated condition. The EPA’s efforts included working with local and state officials to ensure that the community was kept informed and was protected throughout the cleanup.  

Exposure to an ammonia release can have serious health effects that range from eye, nose, throat, respiratory and gastrointestinal tract irritation, to burns, blisters, frostbite and even death. The extent and nature of the health effects depends on many factors, including the level and length of exposure.

 “The EPA answered the call when the City of Vineland asked for help with this potentially serious threat to public safety,” said Judith A. Enck, EPA Regional Administrator. “Due to the poor condition of the refrigeration system at the facility, federal, state and local officials consulted with experts and determined that urgent action was needed to protect local residents and prevent a disaster.”

“This successful effort to remove liquefied ammonia from the structure and reduce possible health risks to nearby residents was the result of a working partnership between federal, state and local staffs,” DEP Commissioner Bob Martin said. “We thank EPA Region 2 for their leadership within a unified command through a complex removal process and we’re glad the situation has been remedied.”

The Vineland ice house has operated since 1922, storing ice and other frozen items, including frozen fish. The facility’s refrigeration system contained anhydrous ammonia, both as a gas and also liquefied under pressure. The EPA observed that the refrigeration system was in a very serious state of disrepair and immediate steps were necessary to protect the surrounding community and workers. Excessive ice and frost had accumulated on the cooling coils through which the ammonia flows. Pressure relief discharge vents are located less than 100 feet from the nearest homes. Centrally located within a heavily populated residential and commercial area, there are single and multiple family homes, schools, churches, Vineland City Hall and Police Department headquarters within a ½ mile radius of the facility. 

The EPA worked with Vineland officials and others to keep local residents informed, including through regular updates in both English and Spanish and extensive door-to-door visits. The EPA ensured that people living nearby were temporarily relocated during the more dangerous parts of the cleanup operation. Thirty five residents from seven homes directly in the wake of the facility were relocated to hotels with expenses paid by the EPA. The EPA also helped coordinate several daytime evacuations impacting those who live within a 500-foot radius of the facility.

“I know that it was a challenge for people to leave their homes or shelter in place during parts of the work, but EPA, local and state experts felt that it was the only way we could guarantee people’s safety,” added Regional Administrator Enck. “This is a wonderful community and we have appreciated people’s patience and understanding under what I am certain were difficult circumstances.”

Now that the work to address the immediate threat is complete, the EPA has handed off any additional work not related to the potential release of anhydrous ammonia to the local authorities.

The cleanup of this site was conducted under emergency response provisions of the Superfund law. The Superfund program operates on the principle that polluters should pay for the cleanups, rather than passing the costs to taxpayers. The EPA will seek to hold accountable those parties that are liable for the estimated $500,000 response and cleanup at the Vineland ice house.

Milestones of the Emergency Response and Cleanup:

July 2, 2016 After having inspected the facility and agreeing with local officials that the refrigeration system’s deterioration presented a significant risk of a release of anhydrous ammonia, an air monitoring network installed by EPA began 24-hour operation.

EPA and local officials notified residents via door-to-door outreach, print, radio and cellular text messaging of the situation at the facility and that shelter-in-place and evacuation procedures might be instituted, if necessary. People from seven homes were relocated to hotels.

July 9:  The EPA installed a chemical scrubber on two high-pressure relief discharge vents. As a precaution, a shelter-in place advisory was established during this work.

July 12:  Out of an abundance of caution, the EPA extended the residential relocation program as an option for those families that chose to accept the assistance, until the EPA had substantially reduced the amount of ammonia in the refrigerator system.

July 18:  The EPA issued an administrative order to the facility owner/operators directing the companies to comply with the EPA’s request for access to continue its ongoing work. The facility owner/operators complied with the EPA order.

July 20:  Removal of all frozen perishable fish and other products from the facility was completed. 

July 21:  The EPA’s refrigeration contractor successfully removed the bulk of the ammonia from the facility’s refrigeration system into an anhydrous ammonia pump truck. Over 90% of the total volume of the system was removed from the facility. Low risk operations to extract ammonia vapors from the system continued.

July 26:  Electrical power to all areas of the building other than the machinery room was shutdown. The EPA began to ventilate the building to accelerate ice melt on the refrigerant coils. The EPA began collecting the melt water for storage before proper disposal.

July 30:  The EPA removed approximately 37,000 gallons of brine solution from the brine tank in the machinery room, which was in danger of imminent collapse.

August 3:  Active ventilation of the building continued to accelerate ice melt on the refrigerant coils. This in turn facilitated the drawdown of any remaining ammonia. Approximately 3,700 gallons of associated melt water were recovered and temporarily stored on-site before disposal.

August 4 to August 23:  Operations to collect melting water were concluded. The EPA demobilized from the site. Local officials will continue working with the facility owner on the appropriate next steps.

For photos related to the Vineland ice house response, please visit: https://www.epa.gov/nj/new-jersey-photos

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