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Food processing firm fined $19k for ammonia leak

By Jenni Spinner+

16-Jan-2014
Last updated the 16-Jan-2014 at 14:17 GMT

A SunOpta processing plant will pay a $19K penalty due to an ammonia release incident.
A SunOpta processing plant will pay a $19K penalty due to an ammonia release incident.

SunOpta Foods, a producer that specializes in organic packaged foods and ingredients, will pay $19K for failure to properly report an ammonia leak at its processing facility.

The company’s SunOpta Consumer Products Group division was charged by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for improper response to the incident at its Allentown, Pennsylvania facility.

Reporting requirements

The Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) requires that manufacturing facilities immediately notify state and local response personnel about such releases of hazardous chemicals.

Additionally, companies causing such incidents are charged with providing follow-up reports detailing response actions and potential harm to public health.

Reporting and recording such information, the agency maintains, makes certain that officials can respond to emergencies in a timely, complete manner.

Contamination incident

The EPA reported that the SunOpta plant released about 450 lbs. of anhydrous ammonia into the air on September 12, 2012. Staff working in the facility were promptly evacuated, the local fire personnel responded and allowed employees to return after determining no action was needed and the building was safe.

While SunOpta management succeeded in reporting the release to the state’s Department of Environmental Protection, it did not report it to the necessary state and local emergency response agencies.

Under the language of the settlement, the penalty reflects the company's good intentions and cooperation with EPA officials.The company does not admit liability for the incident and states it is in full compliance with applicable regulations.

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