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Environmental Enforcement Roundup: Empire Cold Storage, Cenex, Fiber-Fab, Liotta Bros.

Here’s a roundup of the latest environmental enforcement stories.

Empire Cold Storage, a Spokane, Wash., cold storage warehouse and packaged ice producer, will pay the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency $67,142 for an alleged failure to report an estimated 400 pounds of anhydrous ammonia release at its Spokane facility.

On July 14, 2007, the Empire facility released approximately 400 pounds of ammonia into the environment at its facility in West Central Spokane, according to the EPA settlement. Empire uses large quantities of anhydrous ammonia at the facility as a refrigerant.

The leak occurred when a failed pressure gauge caused a release of anhydrous ammonia that lasted up to three hours. The EPA alleges that Empire then failed to immediately notify local and state agencies about the release. No injuries were reported at the time of the accident.

Ammonia is a pungent, toxic gas that attacks skin, eyes, throat, and lungs and can cause serious injury and death.

The substance is also at the center of a settlement involving a Minnesota-based agriultural supply firm. Cenex Harvest States  has agreed to settle a series of alleged violations of the Clean Air Act at its facilities in Garretson, S.D., for $35,200.

This includes a $15,500 civil penalty and $19,700 which will be used to conduct several agricultural ammonia safety workshops in multiple states including North and South Dakota. These workshops will include information on how the EPA Risk Management Program requirements apply to agricultural ammonia facilities and how these facilities can meet these requirements. Cenex will also remove large tanks of ammonia from Garretson’s city center.

The settlement requires Cenex to implement improved maintenance and internal auditing of equipment used to store and process hazardous chemicals, as well as improve how the facility addresses correcting identified hazards. The settlement also requires Cenex to ensure that removing the ammonia – often used as a fertilizer –  from the city center will not adversely affect availability of ammonia for local customers.

Fiber-Fab, a company that manufactures shower stalls and bath tubs, will pay a $17,000 penalty for failing to report the use and releases of styrene at its facility in 2008, according to an order issued by the EPA. The company is located in Gervais, Ore.

An EPA inspector identified the reporting lapse during an inspection in June 2010. Under the federal Toxics Release Inventory Program, companies that use toxic chemicals are required to annually report the chemicals’ releases, transfers and the companies’ waste management activities. Fiber-Fab processed more than 25,000 pounds of styrene at its facility in 2008 without notifying federal regulators, the EPA said.

Styrene is a chemical widely used to make plastics and rubber. It is a respiratory hazard that can affect the nervous system.

Finally, the owner of a Long Island, N.Y., landscaping company has been charged with mixing garden mulch with hazardous waste products including carcinogens, and selling it as “shredded hardwood,” a product that homeowners purchase for use in gardens or children’s playgrounds, the Nassau County District Attorney’s office has announced.

Victor Liotta, 46, of Oceanside, N.Y.,  and his corporation, Liotta Bros. Recycling Corporation, were arrested by DA investigators. Both Liotta and his company are charged with scheme to defraud in the first degree, prohibited disposal of solid waste, operation of a solid waste management facility without a permit, and misbranded or adulterated fertilizer.

In March 2010, during a random spot-check by a New York State Department of Environmental Conservation engineer, it was discovered that a sample of wood chips from Liotta’s landscaping company contained amounts of wood which had been stained, chemically treated, or glued, and other unauthorized construction and demolition debris, including plastic chips, floor tiles, rags, sheet metal and rubber, the DA’s office said.

The department referred the case to the DA’s Environmental Crimes Unit, whose own investigators discovered that in addition to wood chips, bags of garden mulch sold at the retail landscaping store were also mixed with unauthorized construction waste, even though the bags were marked “100 percent hardwood.”

Liotta will be arraigned in District Court in Hempstead, N.Y., and faces four years in jail.

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