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SAN FRANCISCO – Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a settlement with Leprino Foods Company for claims of violations of the Clean Air Act, the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act, and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act at the company’s facility in Tracy, Calif. The violation claims pertain to the facility’s anhydrous ammonia refrigeration system that is used for cheese production and storage. Anhydrous ammonia can cause serious, often irreversible health effects when released. In addition to potential impacts from inhalation of or skin contact with this substance, it is highly flammable.

Under the settlement, Leprino Foods Company will pay $229,707 in civil penalties and has made significant safety improvements to the facility to come into compliance with federal environmental laws. Leprino Foods Company will also provide emergency response training equipment valued at $179,340 to local first responders.

“To protect workers, first responders and the public, it is paramount that any facility handling dangerous chemicals such as anhydrous ammonia take steps to reduce the risk of releases,” said EPA Pacific Southwest Regional Administrator Martha Guzman. “We’re encouraged that Leprino Foods Company has invested in making its Tracy facility safer and, as a result of this settlement, will provide first responders with important equipment.”

In March 2022, EPA conducted an inspection of the Leprino Foods Company facility located at 2401 North MacArthur Drive in Tracy. EPA identified significant violations of Clean Air Act chemical safety requirements, the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act, and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act.

Based on the inspection, EPA determined that the facility’s ammonia refrigeration system was not designed to meet safety standards. The inspection found several deficiencies, including:

  • Failure to immediately notify the National Response Center and the California Office of Emergency Services following a release of 109 pounds of anhydrous ammonia on March 31, 2021;
  • Inadequate documentation that the facility’s refrigeration system was designed to prevent releases of anhydrous ammonia;
  • An insufficient operation and maintenance program for the refrigeration system, resulting in safety issues, such as significant ice accumulation and corrosion; and
  • Failure to promptly address critical safety recommendations and implement safe work practices for contractors.

In addition to paying a penalty of $229,707, Leprino Foods Company made significant safety improvements to its facility. Safety upgrades included repairs to damaged refrigeration equipment, installation of tight-fitting engine room doors with panic hardware, the connection of all ammonia sensors to a central alarm system, and the addition of safety signage and labeling. Leprino Foods Company also updated design codes and standards for the main engine room, ensured no pressure relief valves exceed allowable backpressure requirements, made improvements to a machinery room emergency ventilation system and relief system design, and sealed a gap in an engine room wall so it is tight-fitting.

Leprino Foods Company will also provide $179,340 worth of emergency response training equipment to its local emergency responder, the South San Joaquin County Fire Authority. Equipment includes a drone with hazardous material sensing capabilities, equipment and software that simulates hazardous material incidents, and training props.

This donation of equipment by Leprino Foods Company is a supplemental environmental project, which is an environmentally beneficial project or activity that is not required by law, but that a party agrees to undertake as part of the settlement of an enforcement action. Such projects or activities go beyond what could legally be required of the respondent, and secure environmental and/or public health benefits in addition to those achieved by compliance with the law.

Emergency Release Notification Requirements:

The Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act contain emergency release notification requirements to assure that first responders receive timely notice of reportable releases. Facilities holding reportable quantities of various substances must report releases when they exceed specified quantities. For more information, visit EPA’s Emergency Release Notifications webpage.

Clean Air Act Risk Management Program:

EPA’s Clean Air Act Risk Management Program (RMP) regulations work to prevent accidental chemical releases in our communities and the environment. Facilities holding more than a threshold quantity of a regulated substance are required to comply with EPA’s RMP regulations. The regulations require owners or operators of covered facilities to develop and implement an RMP and to submit a risk management plan to EPA. Learn more about the Risk Management Program rule.

Clean Air Act National Enforcement and Compliance Initiative:

Thousands of facilities nationwide make, use, and store regulated substances, including anhydrous ammonia. Catastrophic accidents at ammonia refrigeration facilities—historically about 150 each year—result in fatalities and serious injuries, evacuations, and other harm to human health and the environment. EPA inspects these facilities as part of the Agency’s National Enforcement and Compliance Initiative, which seeks to reduce risk to human health and the environment by decreasing the likelihood of accidental releases and mitigating the consequences of chemical accidents. Learn about the National Enforcement and Compliance Initiative on reducing risks of accidental releases at industrial and chemical facilities.

Additional Information:

For more information on reporting possible violations of environmental laws and regulations visit EPA’s enforcement reporting website.

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