Fruit Processing Plant to Pay $106,000 for Failing to Report Ammonia Release

Tree Top Inc. has agreed to pay a $21,000 EPA penalty and complete an $85,000 upgrade to its Selah, Wash., plant for failing to immediately report a release of ammonia at its fruit processing plant.

In addition to the penalty, Tree Top will update its computer hardware and an install an advanced ammonia detection system that will make future releases less likely.

On July 10, 2009, Tree Top had an estimated 1,000-pound ammonia release at its fruit processing center, according to the EPA settlement. The company uses large quantities of anhydrous ammonia at the plant as a refrigerant.

"When toxic gases like ammonia get released, every second counts,” said Edward Kowalski, director of EPA’s Office of Compliance and Enforcement in Seattle. “Immediate reporting protects workers, emergency responders and the community.”

According to case documents, EPA alleges that Tree Top failed to immediately notify emergency response authorities after the ammonia release occurred and also failed to submit the required reporting documents.

The leak occurred when a high-pressure relief valve tripped and failed to reseat properly. While 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.

EPA's Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act (EPCRA) requires that all releases of hazardous substances (above certain thresholds) be immediately reported to federal, state, and local emergency responders.

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