The penalties relate to violations of Clean Air Act (CAA) regulations covering the prevention of chemical accidents at 23 facilities from 2006-2010 in Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska, according to the Justice Department and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
The firm uses anhydrous ammonia as a refrigerant in its systems.
As part of a $3.95m penalty, the firm will conduct pipe-testing and third-party audits of its ammonia refrigeration systems to improve compliance with the act.
The processor and marketer of chicken, beef and pork also agreed to purchase $300,000 worth of emergency response equipment for first responders in communities with significant environmental justice concerns for its facilities.
EPA said that through a series of inspections and information requests, they found multiple occasions of noncompliance with the chemical accident prevention provisions.
Violations included failures to follow the general industry standards to test or replace safety relief valves, improperly co-located gas-fired boilers and ammonia machinery, and failures to abide by the Clean Air Act’s Risk Management Program (RMP) prevention and reporting requirements.
The facilities listed in the consent decree are subject to the Clean Air Act’s RMP requirements because their refrigeration systems each contain more than 10,000 pounds of anhydrous ammonia.
The facilities have a combined inventory of more than 1.7m pounds of the chemical, said the EPA.
“We strive to operate our facilities responsibly, so after learning of EPA’s concerns we immediately made improvements and cooperated with EPA officials throughout the process,” said Kevin Igli, senior vice president and chief Environmental, Health and Safety Officer of Tyson Foods.
“We also agreed to develop a third-party audit system at the facilities involved to assure EPA these plants are in compliance with all aspects of our Risk Management Plan obligations,” he added.
Exposure to vapours can cause temporary blindness and eye damage, irritation of the skin, mouth, throat, respiratory tract and mucous membranes. Prolonged exposure to anhydrous ammonia vapour at high concentrations can lead to serious lung damage and death.
The proposed settlement lodged in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri, is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval.
“This settlement will protect workers at Tyson facilities throughout Kansas, Iowa, Missouri, and Nebraska that use anhydrous ammonia, and make the communities surrounding these 23 facilities safer,” said Ignacia Moreno, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.
“The requirements of this agreement, which include comprehensive third party audits, will help mitigate the impact of releases of anhydrous ammonia by ensuring compliance with the Risk Management Program under the Clean Air Act.”