• EPA headquarters, Washington DC
    EPA headquarters, Washington DC

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 US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The fine was for violating federal laws regulating companies that handle hazardous chemicals relating to its use of ammonia at facilities in New Bedford, Massachusetts and East Hartford, Connecticut.

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 New England regional administrator David W. Cash said the action underscores the importance of the safe handling and management of hazardous substances like anhydrous ammonia.

“When a company like Maritime International does not comply with its safety obligations, it threatens the safety of our communities," he said.

"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.