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EPA Works with Lynn, Mass. Company to Reduce Risk from Chemicals by Improving Safety Measures

08/29/2017
Contact Information: 
Emily Bender (bender.emily@epa.gov)
617-918-1037

Boston - A Lynn, Mass. company that uses ammonia in its refrigeration system has come into compliance with federal environmental laws after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found the company was operating in violation of clean air and federal right-to-know laws and putting employees and the public in danger.

Demakes Enterprises of 37 Waterhill St. owns and operates a meat processing, cooking, packaging, and storage facility and sells products, in part, under the "Thin 'n Trim" and "Old Neighborhood" labels. As part of resolving the violations identified by EPA, the company spent about $300,000 on safety upgrades and other measures to come into compliance with the Clean Air Act, as well as the federal Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act. In an agreement signed with EPA's New England office, the company also said it would pay a penalty of $132,183 to resolve the violations.

The company violated a part of the Clean Air Act known as the General Duty Clause in its widespread mishandling of anhydrous ammonia. The company violated the right to know law by failing to accurately report the amount of ammonia used in the facility, as well as failing to report sulfuric acid present in the facility.

The General Duty Clause, or Section 112(r) of the Clean Air Act, aims to reduce the risk of chemical accidents. Ammonia presents a significant health hazard because it is corrosive to the skin, eyes, and lungs. Ammonia is also flammable at high concentrations. It can explode if released in an enclosed space with a source of ignition, or if a vessel with anhydrous ammonia is exposed to fire. As a result of these dangers, the ammonia refrigeration industry has developed standards and guidelines for the design and operation of ammonia refrigeration systems.

The case stems from a 2014 inspection by EPA's New England office, as well as from information received by EPA after that. EPA inspectors found numerous potentially dangerous conditions related to in the ammonia refrigeration system, including insufficient emergency plans, insufficient labeling of ammonia control valves and piping, lack of alarms and other safety equipment, failures to test/maintain/replace safety equipment, lack of proper ventilation, and obstructed access to system equipment.

The General Duty Claus of the Clean Air Act requires that owners and operators of stationary sources that produce, process, handle, or store extremely hazardous substances follow a set of rules, including identifying hazards that may result from accidental releases; designing and maintaining a safe facility, taking steps necessary to prevent releases; and minimizing the consequences of accidental releases.

Demakes failed to report sulfuric acid from lead-acid batteries in 2013 as required by what is known as a Tier II report, although over 500 pounds of sulfuric acid were stored at the facility. Demakes also under-reported its inventory of anhydrous ammonia. Demakes reported a maximum quantity of 3,000 pounds in 2013, although information documented that there were at least 6,275 pounds of ammonia.

Demakes has since provided information on how it addressed the conditions and it is now in compliance with both laws. This settlement is expected to encourage compliance by the regulated community with the Clean Air Act's General Duty Clause requirements to prevent potential harms relating to the operation of ammonia refrigeration systems. Enforcement of the community right-to-know reporting requirements will ensure that the community is not deprived of its right to know about chemical releases that may affect public health and the environment.

More information on compliance with Clean Air Act General Duty Clause (www.epa.gov/enforcement/guidance-implementation-general-duty-clause-clean-air-act-caa-section-112r1-may-2000)