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Release Date: 03/02/1999
Contact Information: Amy Miller, EPA Press Office (617-918-1042)

BOSTON - The U.S. Environmental Agency announced today that Delken Companies of New Bedford has agreed to pay an $8,168 fine and make environmental improvements valued at $24,502 at its facility, where fish parts are processed for use in cat food.

The settlement between EPA and Delken stems from a 1997 complaint by EPA charging that the company failed to report an accidental release of ammonia at its plant, as required by the federal Clean Air Act.

The company has agreed under the settlement to carry out a pollution prevention program that will greatly reduce the amount of ammonia used, stored and released at the facility, as well as the chances of an accidental release. EPA had initially fined Delken $32,670, but reduced the penalty in exchange for the company's willingness to invest nearly $25,000 in plant improvements.

"The settlement reached between Delken and EPA does far more than impose a penalty for violating the law," said John P. DeVillars, EPA's New England Administrator. "It also goes a long way towards upgrading a plant that was in dire need of repairs and improvements."

The improvement program includes removing obsolete refrigeration piping and an un-used 600-gallon ammonia tank, installing an ammonia detection system and blocking off floor drains near ammonia receivers.

Ammonia, which is widely used as a coolant, can cause severe burning and irritation to eyes, nose and respiratory systems. The manager of Delken greatly reduced potential damage from the release by immediately closing supply valves, but he sustained chemical burns in the process.

The violation occurred in February 1997 when EPA estimates the plant accidentally released about 770 pounds of ammonia into the air. Federal law requires companies to report any single release of ammonia greater than 100 pounds. The company was routinely losing an average of 49 pounds of ammonia per day from normal operations, but plant improvements will cut daily leakage to a fraction of that amount.

"This accidental release served as a wake-up call," said DeVillars. "It is unfortunate that it took an emergency situation to update a plant that was in serious need of help."

The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), which took separate action against the company for violating state notification and response provisions of the Massachusetts Contingency Plan, has also reached an agreement with Delken that will improve the safety and conditions at the plant. Delken agreed in October to pay the state $16,000 and to make changes in its planning and reporting procedures. DEP learned of the release through a telephone call from the local fire department. EPA was alerted by state environmental officials and subsequently did an inspection of the plant in the summer of 1997.