According to a settlement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Star Ice and Fuel, of Fife, Washington, failed to immediately report a hazardous chemical release to local, state, and national emergency responders, a violation of the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act.
Star Ice & Fuel, Inc. manufactures ice using anhydrous ammonia, a colorless gas used in industrial refrigeration systems. In September 2011, the company's facility in Fife, accidentally released approximately 450 pounds of ammonia gas to the atmosphere.
“Ammonia is a highly toxic gas,” said Ed Kowalski, director of EPA’s enforcement program in Seattle. “Quick notification of an accidental release of ammonia or other hazardous chemicals helps ensure timely and safe actions by local emergency responders to protect both company employees and nearby residents.”
The Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act requires that if a facility has a hazardous chemical release, they must immediately notify the National Response Center, the State Emergency Response Commission, and the Local Emergency Planning committee.
The ammonia release was caused by a compressor valve leak in the company’s refrigeration system. Milton police reported the ammonia smell to fire and hazardous materials responders.
The company has since corrected the violations and agreed to pay $50,805 in federal penalties as part of today’s settlement.
Most accidents with anhydrous ammonia occur from uncontrolled or accidental releases. Exposure to anhydrous ammonia vapors can cause temporary blindness and eye damage and irritation of the skin, mouth, throat, and respiratory tract. Prolonged exposure to high concentrations of anhydrous ammonia vapors can lead to serious lung damage and even death.