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News Releases from Region 10

Unified Grocers settles EPA claims for delayed reporting of ammonia release, risk management, and emergency planning violations

Contact Information: 
Jeff Philip EPA Public Affairs (philip.jeff@epa.gov)

Agreement includes over $180,000 in ammonia release detection improvements and $110,200 in penalties

(Seattle-October 1, 2015) Unified Grocers has settled with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for alleged chemical release reporting, risk management, and emergency planning violations at its warehouse facility in Seattle, Washington and will pay EPA a $110,200 penalty. The company will also complete a Supplemental Environmental Project which includes ammonia release detection improvements valued at over $180,000. The facility, located at 3301 South Norfolk in Seattle, Washington, is a distribution center for grocery products.

On April 18, 2011, the facility released more than 3,600 pounds of anhydrous ammonia into the environment during the change out of a pressure relief valve. The Seattle Fire Department responded to the incident, evacuated the facility and transported two people to a local hospital. EPA inspectors following up on the incident found numerous violations of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act, and Clean Air Act. Alleged violations included:

  • Failure to immediately notify state and national responders of the ammonia release.
  • Failure to have complete information on the pressure relief system before conducting the required hazard analysis for the facility.
  • Failure to follow Unified Grocers' written procedures for changing out pressure relief valves.
  • Failure to train an employee involved in changing out the pressure relief valve that resulted in the ammonia release.
  • Deficiencies in the facility's ammonia detection system.
  • Failure to document its follow-up action on recommendations in its own report on the 2011 ammonia release.

EPA also alleges that the facility subsequently failed to timely submit a 2013 Emergency and Hazardous Chemical Inventory form for ammonia to state and local agencies.
According to Ed Kowalski, EPA's Director of Enforcement and Compliance in Seattle, these cases are about protecting workers, emergency responders and the community.

"When unintended chemical releases occur, every minute counts," said EPA's Kowalski. "Emergency responders at the local, state and federal level must be notified immediately to react effectively. In addition, we have several federal environmental laws that, if followed properly, can minimize the risk of catastrophic incidents. Fortunately, Unified Grocers has agreed to some progressive improvements to the facility which help reduce the risk of future incidents."

In addition to meeting current environmental regulations, Unified Grocers has agreed to perform a Supplemental Environmental Project, adding next generation technologies to its ammonia detection and monitoring system. The enhancements include numerous ammonia sensors, warning devices, and emergency notification to offsite personnel. The enhancements are projected to cost $182,603.

Ammonia is a pungent, toxic gas that attacks skin, eyes, throat, and lungs and can cause serious injury or death.