July 31, 2023
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Justice Department have reached a settlement with Taylor Farms New England, Inc. to resolve alleged violations of the Clean Air Act (CAA) and Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) at the company's food processing facility in North Kingstown, Rhode Island. The alleged violations pertain to chemical release prevention and reporting requirements under both statutes. The company will pay $650,000 in civil penalties and ensure that 19 other facilities in the corporate family are audited to assess whether their ammonia refrigeration systems are being safely designed and operated.
Taylor Farms uses anhydrous ammonia in the facility's refrigeration system. Anhydrous ammonia has many economic and operational benefits as a refrigerant; however, its use requires great care due to the chemical's toxicity and its flammability at certain vapor concentrations. Anhydrous ammonia can cause serious, often irreversible health effects when released. The chemical is considered an extremely hazardous substance.
"It's imperative that facilities properly handle extremely hazardous substances to prevent dangerous chemical accidents. Companies using extremely hazardous substances must coordinate closely with local emergency responders and planners to minimize harm if chemical accidents occur," said EPA New England Regional Administrator David W. Cash. "Carefully following chemical accident prevention regulations is necessary to safeguard workers and nearby communities. EPA works to protect all communities, including vulnerable populations who shoulder a greater share of these risks. We are pleased that under this settlement, Taylor Farms will assess the other ammonia refrigeration systems within their corporate family to see if they comply with industry standards of care. We urge other corporations to take this step."
Taylor Farm's Rhode Island facility uses approximately 16,000 lbs. of anhydrous ammonia as a refrigerant, which subjects it to the CAA's chemical accident prevention regulations (Risk Management Plan requirements), and to emergency planning and notification requirements under EPCRA. During an EPA inspection in 2019 to support local emergency responders and planners, EPA identified numerous concerns, including that the facility's evaporators were not protected from potential forklift impacts – even though the company's own hazard analysis had recommended protecting certain evaporators from impacts.
Subsequently, in April 2020 an ammonia release occurred when a forklift bumped into an evaporator located in a fruit storage room. The company had moved the evaporator to this location after conducting its initial process hazard analysis and had failed to identify the need to protect the evaporator prior to starting its operations. The incident resulted in hundreds of employees being evacuated, a road being shut down, food destroyed, and 14 employees requiring medical evaluation at a local hospital. EPA issued an administrative compliance order to the facility on June 11, 2020, to require the company to correct CAA and EPCRA violations and EPA subsequently referred the case to the Department of Justice. EPA also coordinated with the Occupational Health and Safety Administration, which issued its own citations.
Some of the key violations alleged in the complaint include failure to identify hazards, including from changes made to the facility; failure to timely follow through on recommendations made in the company's process hazard analysis; failure to document compliance with recognized and generally accepted good engineering practices; and failure to adequately coordinate with local emergency response and planning organizations.
Under the terms of the proposed settlement, Taylor Farms will pay $650,000 in penalties, implement specific safety improvements at the North Kingstown, R.I. facility, evaluate whether the facility's existing safety measures are adequate given employee language barriers, evaluate whether the facility's location in a storm surge evacuation zone and in an area subject to hurricane-force winds poses risks that should be assessed, and conduct safety audits of the ammonia refrigeration systems at 19 other facilities in the corporate family nationwide. Taylor Farms completed most of the compliance work needed at the Rhode Island facility after EPA issued its compliance order in 2020.
Taylor Farms New England manufactures and stores perishable prepared foods for grocery stores and other retail businesses at a decommissioned naval air base in North Kingstown. The facility is in a hurricane evacuation zone. A worst-case release of ammonia from the facility could affect other businesses, a residential area, an elementary school, an airport, and a Rhode Island Air National Guard base. Hundreds of people work at the facility, many who are not native English-speakers. The North Kingstown facility is one of about 20 locations in the United States with ammonia refrigeration systems operated by the privately-owned Taylor Fresh Foods, Inc. corporate family.
Thousands of facilities nationwide make, use, and store extremely hazardous substances, including anhydrous ammonia. Catastrophic accidents at ammonia refrigeration facilities result in evacuations as well as fatalities, serious injuries, and other harms to human health and the environment.
Westfield Grain Operator Ignored Federal Safety Standards Leading to Near-Tragic Engulfment
A 43-year-old employee at a Westfield grain elevator found himself trapped for five hours in February 2023 as co-workers and emergency responders worked to remove hundreds of pounds of soybeans to pull him out. Thankfully, the worker suffered only minor injuries.
An investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration of the incident at Littlejohn Grain Inc. found the bin operator exposed the employee to engulfment hazards by allowing them to enter the bin without required protective equipment, such as a safety harness or lanyard, while the bin’s screw auger turned. At the time of the incident, workers were “walking down grain” – a well-known hazard that must be avoided – to unclog soybeans stacked as high as 30 feet on the bin’s inside walls.
OSHA determined that the company violated federal grain-handling safety standards by allowing employees to enter the bin without protective equipment and by not locking out the auger to prevent movement while workers were inside. The company also failed to train workers on emergency procedures.
“This worker avoided serious and deadly injuries too often suffered by workers who are trapped in a silo where flowing materials can completely engulf someone in a matter of seconds,” explained OSHA Area Director Edward Marshall in Peoria, Illinois. “The quick actions of his co-workers and first responders prevented him from suffering a fate that needlessly claimed the lives of too many agricultural workers every year.”
OSHA cited the company for two willful, 10 serious and three other-than-serious violations, including failing to provide fall protection to workers on grain platforms, lacking a hazardous communication program, not inspecting fire extinguishers and powered industrial trucks and failing to train workers in their use, and for not making sure required machine guards were in place. OSHA proposed penalties of $272,957.
OSHA also learned that on July 12, 2023 – only months after Littlejohn Grain was warned about the dangers of preventing movement of a bin’s auger – another Littlejohn Grain employee in Westfield became caught in a moving bin auger. The employee suffered injuries that required a foot amputation. The investigation into that incident is ongoing.
Based in Martinsville, Illinois, Littlejohn Grain Inc. has served grain producers in Clark, Edgar and Cumberland counties since 1923. In addition to its facilities in Westfield and Martinsville, the company operates a grain elevator in West Union. The company is a member of the Grain and Feed Association of Illinois.
In 2018, OSHA established a regional emphasis program for grain handling facilities in Illinois, Ohio and Wisconsin after investigating more than two dozen related fatalities in the prior decade. In addition to its enforcement efforts, the agency has worked closely with the industry to raise awareness of grain-handling hazards. This work includes OSHA partnerships with the Grain Handling Safety Coalition, Grain Elevator and Processing Society and National Grain and Feed Association.
OSHA’s industry alliance has identified the following seven steps for grain safety:
- Turn off and lockout equipment before entering a bin or performing maintenance.
- Never walk down grain to make it flow.
- Test the air in the bin before entering.
- Use a safety harness and anchored lifeline.
- Place a trained observer outside of the bin in case of an emergency.
- Do not enter a bin where grain is built up on the side.
- Control the accumulation of grain dust through housekeeping.
The company has 15 business days from receipt of the citations and penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA’s area director, or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.
Globe Metallurgical To Pay $2.6 Million Fine To Reduce Pollution From Industrial Furnaces in Ohio
Globe Metallurgical, Inc. has agreed to a consent decree that would require it to pay a $2.6 million civil penalty, implement an estimated $6.5 million in new and improved air pollution emissions controls and limit the sulfur content of inputs in its metal production process to settle alleged violations of the Clean Air Act (CAA) at a ferroalloy production facility in Beverly, Ohio. Emissions of air pollutants, such as the sulfur dioxide (SO2) and particulate matter (PM) emitted from Globe’s operation of five electric arc furnaces, may cause adverse environmental and health impacts, including lung disorders such as asthma and bronchitis.
According to the six-count complaint, filed simultaneously with the settlement today in the Southern District of Ohio, Globe allegedly violated CAA requirements following the expansion of one of its furnaces, including a failure to assess best available pollution control technology for the modified furnace and failure to demonstrate compliance with regulations applicable to ferroalloy production plants. The United States also alleged that Globe had a history of excessive emissions of PM from the facility in violation of its existing permits.
“This settlement requires Globe to take substantial steps to reduce emissions of harmful air pollutants from industrial furnaces at its Beverly, Ohio facility,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator Larry Starfield for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “The result will be cleaner, healthier air for neighboring communities.”
“The extensive measures required by today’s settlement will reduce pollution and help prevent future violations of the Clean Air Act, ensuring that the citizens of Southeast Ohio have cleaner air to breathe,” said Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “This case demonstrates that the Department of Justice will work tenaciously to hold accountable companies that violate federal environmental law.
“Compliance with regulations requiring upgrades to aging industrial facilities are critical when protecting health and the environment,” said U.S. Attorney Kenneth L. Parker for the Southern District of Ohio. “The Justice Department and the Environmental Protection Agency are vigilantly ensuring compliance with the Clean Air Act and other environmental laws.”
In addition to paying a penalty, Globe will now be required to utilize coal and other materials with a specified reduced-sulfur content to limit the generation of harmful SO2 emissions. Globe will also take significant steps to reduce emissions of PM, including construction of an additional pollution control baghouse, and implementation of physical improvements to equipment and changes to operational practices to reduce emissions of PM both from stacks and directly to the atmosphere from equipment. Globe will also be conducting extensive testing and implementing significantly enhanced monitoring of air pollutants to ensure ongoing compliance.
The consent decree also brings the Globe facility’s pollution control obligations up to date with environmental regulations that post-date the plant’s construction, including stricter limits on PM and carbon monoxide emissions.
Boston Dumpling Manufacturer Continues To Endanger Employees
When U.S. Department of Labor inspectors returned to a Boston food plant in March 2023, they discovered the plant's operator — Chinese Spaghetti Factory Inc. — still had not installed required safety guards on a dumpling machine's rotating shafts, a dangerous hazard for which the company was cited for after an employee suffered serious injuries in 2022.
The department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration conducted the follow-up inspection at the Newmarket Street facility to verify that the company had corrected the unsafe conditions identified in 2022. As a result, OSHA proposed an additional $82,500 penalty for failing to correct this hazard.
The agency's safety inspection and a concurrent health inspection found several new and recurring hazards, which led OSHA to issue citations and propose $108,031 in penalties for the following:
- A willful violation for allowing the dumpling machine's gears to remain unguarded, as two employees worked in close proximity to the hazard.
- Two repeat violations for exposing employees to the risks of electrical shock and injuries from unguarded electrical components and unguarded operating parts of a forming and filling machine, conditions similar to hazards for which OSHA cited the company in 2022 and 2019.
- A serious violation for lacking a program or procedures to prevent the unintended activation of various machines, including grinders, choppers, and forming and filling machines, while employees cleaned and maintained them.
- Three serious violations for an incomplete hearing conservation program for employees exposed to high noise levels, inadequate eyewash facilities for employees working with corrosive cleaners and an incomplete chemical hazard communication program.
Since 2017, OSHA inspections have identified 10 serious, repeat and other-than-serious violations at the Chinese Spaghetti Factory's location.
In total, the company faces $190,541 in proposed fines for its recent uncorrected, recurring and new hazards.
"The sizable penalties in this case reflect the gravity of this situation and the dangers faced by people employed at the Chinese Spaghetti Factory's facility," explained OSHA Area Director James Mulligan in Braintree, Massachusetts. "The employer's willingness to ignore federal regulations and failure to correct workplace hazards, including one that seriously injured a worker, is unacceptable. Safety and health is a fundamental right for every worker and must be a company-wide core value."
View the safety and health citations and the Failure to Abate notice.
Chinese Spaghetti Factory Inc. has 15 business days from receipt of its citations and penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA's area director or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.
EPA Releases Draft Strategy To Better Protect Endangered Species from Herbicide Use
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released the draft Herbicide Strategy for public comment, a major milestone in the Agency’s work to protect federally endangered and threatened (listed) species from conventional agricultural herbicides. The Strategy describes proposed early mitigations for more than 900 listed species and designated critical habitats to reduce potential impacts from the agricultural use of these herbicides while helping to ensure the continued availability of these important pesticide tools.
“Ensuring safe use of herbicides is an important part of EPA’s mission to protect the environment,” said Deputy Assistant Administrator for Pesticide Programs for the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention Jake Li. “This strategy reflects one of our biggest steps to support farmers and other herbicide users with tools for managing weeds, while accelerating EPA’s ability to protect many endangered species that live near agricultural areas.”
The Strategy released today is part of EPA’s ongoing efforts to develop a multichemical, multispecies approach to meeting its obligations under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). EPA’s traditional chemical-by-chemical, species-by-species approach to meeting these obligations is slow and costly. As a result, EPA has completed its ESA obligations for less than 5% of its actions, creating legal vulnerabilities for the Agency, increased litigation, and uncertainty for farmers and other pesticide users about their continued ability to use many pesticides. The Strategy — which is primarily designed to provide early mitigations that minimize impacts to over 900 listed species — is one of EPA’s most significant proposals to help overcome these challenges.
EPA focused the Strategy on agricultural crop uses in the lower 48 states because hundreds of millions of pounds of herbicides (and plant growth regulators) are applied each year, which is substantially more than for non-agricultural uses of herbicides and for other pesticide classes (e.g., insecticides, fungicides). Additionally, hundreds of listed species in the lower 48 states live in habitats adjacent to agricultural areas. The proposed mitigations in the Strategy would address the most common ways that conventional agricultural herbicides impact these listed species.
EPA expects that the Strategy will increase the efficiency of future ESA consultations on herbicides with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), which has authority over most listed species that could benefit from the proposed mitigations. Under the Strategy, EPA proposes to identify and begin mitigating for potential impacts even before EPA completes ESA consultations. These early mitigations should expedite EPA’s ability to fully comply with the ESA by reducing impacts to listed species before EPA conducts most of its ESA analysis. Adopting mitigations earlier will also allow EPA and FWS to far more efficiently use their resources in ESA consultations.
The Strategy’s proposed mitigations reflect practices that can be readily implemented by growers and identified by pesticide applicators and that provide flexibility for growers to select the mitigations that work best for them. The Strategy also gives credit to landowners who are already implementing certain measures to reduce pesticide runoff. For example, existing vegetated ditches and water retention ponds will qualify for credits that reduce the need for additional mitigation. Similarly, the Strategy would require less mitigation on flat lands, which are less prone to runoff, and in many western states, which typically experience less rain to carry pesticides off fields. The Strategy also describes how the Agency could add other mitigation practices to the menu of mitigation options in the future, particularly to incorporate emerging technology or new information on the effectiveness of specific practices.
Draft Herbicide Framework Document
The draft framework document includes a discussion of both the proposed scope of the Herbicide Strategy and the proposed decision framework to determine the level of mitigation needed for a particular conventional agricultural herbicide. The draft framework document also includes examples of how the proposed herbicide mitigation would apply to some of the herbicides for which EPA has conducted case studies as well as EPA's proposed implementation plan.
The draft herbicide framework and accompanying documents are available in docket EPA-HQ-OPP-2023-0365 for public comment for 60 days.
In its ESA Workplan and ESA Workplan Update, EPA outlined this and other ESA initiatives to develop early mitigations that provide listed species with practical protections from pesticides. The Strategy complements those other initiatives, such as targeted mitigations for listed species particularly vulnerable to pesticides and Interim Ecological Mitigations that EPA has begun incorporating under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act. The draft framework describes how EPA would apply the mitigations in the Strategy compared to mitigations in the other initiatives.
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