March 22, 2023
BOSTON – A cold storage warehouse and distribution company, Maritime International and its subsidiaries, Bridge Terminal and Connecticut Freezers, has paid penalties of over $195,000 to settle claims by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that it violated federal laws regulating companies that handle hazardous chemicals relating to its use of ammonia at facilities in New Bedford, Mass. and East Hartford, Conn.
The company will also perform supplemental environmental projects worth about $163,000 that make safety upgrades to its facilities and provide local first responders with emergency response equipment and training.
“EPA’s action underscores the importance of the safe handling and management of hazardous substances like anhydrous ammonia, and when a company like Maritime International does not comply with its safety obligations, it threatens the safety of our communities,” said EPA New England Regional Administrator David W. Cash. “EPA’s work is designed to protect all communities from chemical releases, and we have a special responsibility to reduce the burden of environmental pollution and risks of chemical accidents to the workers and residents of communities that have shouldered a greater share of these impacts. This case clearly illustrates the critical importance of complying with chemical accident planning, prevention, and mitigation requirements.”
According to EPA, Maritime International and its subsidiaries, Bridge Terminal and Connecticut Freezers, violated the Clean Air Act’s General Duty Clause, which requires users of extremely hazardous substances to take steps to prevent and mitigate accidental releases, and the Emergency Planning and Community Right-To-Know Act, which requires companies handling hazardous chemicals to notify state and local emergency response personnel of the presence of those chemicals. Maritime had not taken all required steps to design and maintain a safe facility and had not adequately minimized the consequences of an accidental release of ammonia. Maritime also failed to file hazardous chemical inventory reports with state and local emergency response agencies.
As part of the supplemental environmental projects agreed to, Maritime will install beyond- compliance safety upgrades at two of its New Bedford facilities to help prevent ammonia releases, donated emergency response equipment to the New Bedford Fire Department, and provided ammonia-related emergency response training to 26 local first responders and refrigeration operators in the Hartford area.
Anhydrous ammonia is an efficient refrigerant with low global warming potential, but it must be handled with care because it is highly corrosive to the skin, eyes, and lungs. Exposure to 300 parts per million is immediately dangerous to life and health. Ammonia is also flammable at certain concentrations and can explode if it is released in an enclosed space with a source of ignition present, or if a vessel containing anhydrous ammonia is exposed to fire.
Steps required under the General Duty Clause help prevent accidental releases of extremely hazardous substances and reduce the severity of releases that do occur. A company that fails to take these steps can leave the public and environment at risk from accidental releases. Failure of a facility to identify hazards, design and maintain a safe facility, and take steps to limit and mitigate the harm from accidental releases of extremely hazardous substances puts the local population and environment at risk.
Both Maritime facilities are located less than a half mile from residential homes, restaurants, and businesses. Maritime no longer operates the East Hartford facility. New Bedford, in particular, is home to several ammonia refrigeration facilities and has experienced a number of ammonia releases in recent years, including a release at one of the facilities subject to EPA’s enforcement action.
This case stems from information learned about Maritime’s facilities following inspections by EPA in the summer of 2018 following an ammonia release at the Fish Island, New Bedford facility. In July 2018, approximately 3,200 pounds of anhydrous ammonia were released from the New Bedford Facility. Following EPA’s inspections, Agency staff notified the company about the alleged violations. The company was cooperative and took the necessary steps to bring its facilities into compliance with the Clean Air Act, in accordance with administrative compliance orders Maritime entered into with EPA in 2019 and 2020.