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U.S. EPA commits Sanger, Calif., poultry processor to protect workers, local community from risk of chemical releases

Contact Information: 
Michele Huitric (

SAN FRANCISCO – Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced a settlement with Pitman Farms, Inc., for violations of federal chemical safety and reporting requirements following three ammonia releases at its poultry processing facility located in Sanger, Calif.  Pitman Farms, which sells poultry from its Sanger facility under the brand name Mary’s Free Range Chicken, will pay a $242,980 civil penalty and perform two local environmental projects valued at nearly $200,000.

EPA’s action is a result of its November 2014 inspection that uncovered violations of the federal Clean Air Act’s Risk Management Program, designed to prevent the accidental release of extremely hazardous substances to the air. The inspection was prompted by a release of 2,700 pounds of anhydrous ammonia at the facility in September 2014 that led to the hospitalization of 15 employees. Additional smaller releases of anhydrous ammonia occurred in May 2016 and July 2016. Each of those incidents resulted in the medical treatment of 4 employees.

“Companies using hazardous chemicals must take steps to ensure the safety of nearby residents and their workers,” said Alexis Strauss, EPA’s Acting Regional Administrator for the Pacific Southwest. “We appreciate Pitman Farms’ recent efforts to install new refrigeration equipment to reduce the chance of ammonia releases.”

During its inspection, EPA found that Pitman Farms violated the Risk Management Program regulations by failing to:

  • Provide training to employees to assure they understand and adhere to the operating procedures.
  • Ensure that employees were properly fitted for personal protective equipment.
  • Perform annual inspections and tests of the ammonia refrigeration system, and correct deficiencies in equipment in a timely manner.
  • Promptly address all recommendations made in its Incident Investigation Report after the September 2014 release of anhydrous ammonia at the facility. 
  • Document that all ammonia process equipment complied with industry standards, such as labeling ammonia refrigeration system pipes.

EPA inspectors also found that the company failed to immediately notify the National Response Center and the California Office of Emergency Services as soon as it knew of the releases in September 2014 and July 2016, in violation of the federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act and Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act.

Under the settlement, Pitman Farms will spend $194,950 on environmental projects to support emergency planning and preparedness efforts in the Sanger area and larger Fresno County communities. The company will purchase and donate emergency response equipment to the Fresno County Hazmat Emergency Response Team and the City of Fresno Fire Department, to assist them in responding to hazardous materials incidents. In addition, the company will upgrade its facility by installing centralized safety controls to provide rapid detection and control of anhydrous ammonia releases. Pitman Farms has also installed a new state-of-the-art ammonia refrigeration system and filed a revised risk management plan for the new system, which became operational in August 2016.

The Clean Air Act’s Risk Management Program requires facility plans that include hazard assessments detailing the potential effects of an accidental release and a prevention program that includes safety precautions and maintenance, monitoring, and employee training measures. When properly implemented, risk management plans help prevent chemical releases and minimize their potential impacts at facilities that store large amounts of hazardous substances or flammable chemicals. Facilities are required to update and resubmit their risk management plans at least once every five years. These plans are used by EPA and other emergency responders to assess chemical risks to nearby communities and prepare for emergency responses.

For more information on the Risk Management Program, please visit:

For more information on the notification requirements under the EPCRA and CERCLA, please visit:

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