Saturday, February 17, 2018

Maine blueberry plant settles with EPA in ammonia leak case

Hancock Foods, which owns a blueberry processing plant and cold storage warehouse in Hancock, Maine, will pay two fines related to its use of the refrigerant anhydrous ammonia under a settlement with the Environmental Protection Agency.

Hancock Foods uses anhydrous ammonia in its refrigeration systems and failed to report a release of approximately 300 pounds of the chemical from one of its refrigeration units in March 2015, EPA said in a news release. Anhydrous ammonia is corrosive to lungs, skin and eyes and care must be taken when it is handled.

Failure to report the leak is a violation of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, or Superfund law, EPA said. As part of the settlement, Hancock Foods will pay $103,613 to settle allegations that it violated Section 112(r) of the Clean Air Act in its handling of anhydrous ammonia and $5,110 to settle allegations that it violated the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, EPA said.

"Hancock has worked cooperatively with EPA through this process and has worked hard to correct its violations," Curt Spalding, regional administrator of EPA's New England office, said in the release. "These air and reporting laws help protect public health, first responders and our environment."

In 2012, Hancock Foods was inspected by the EPA and inspectors found “potentially dangerous conditions relating to the ammonia refrigeration processes,” EPA said.

Following the settlement, EPA said Hancock Foods is now in compliance with federal requirements surrounding public exposure to hazardous chemicals.

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