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August 21, 2023

Wyman's, Barber Foods will pay a total of $373K to settle EPA safety violation claims

Two Maine food makers have agreed to pay a total of $373,490 in penalties to settle claims by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that the companies violated chemical safety rules.

The EPA accused both companies, Jasper Wyman & Son and Barber Foods, of disobeying requirements related to the use of a refrigerant, anhydrous ammonia, at their facilities.

Jasper Wyman & Son, known as Wyman’s, is headquartered in Milbridge and produces wild blueberries and related foods. Barber is a frozen-poultry manufacturer in Portland owned by Tyson Foods Inc., a multinational corporation based in Springvale, Ark.

Anhydrous ammonia — used in manufacturing, refrigeration and agriculture — is a pungent, colorless, toxic gas and liquid that can be corrosive to humans upon contact, according to National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. The substance, an energy-efficient refrigerant, must be handled with care because it is highly corrosive to the skin, eyes and lungs, and can cause serious, often irreversible health effects when released, the EPA said in its Aug. 17 news release.

Settlement details

Wyman’s agreed to pay a penalty of $73,490 to resolve alleged violations of the Clean Air Act’s chemical accident prevention requirements at its facility in Cherryfield. 

In addition, the company agreed to provide training for local emergency responders on how to address ammonia releases and to donate equipment to the Cherryfield Fire Department to improve response capabilities under a Supplemental Environmental Project, valued at approximately $65,000.  

In a separate case, Barber Foods agreed to pay a sum of $300,000 for violating the Clean Air Act’s Risk Management Plan violations at two facilities. The penalty comprises $149,000 for alleged violations at Barber Foods' Milliken Street plant and $151,000 for alleged violations at a facility on St. John Street. 

EPA inspections of all three facilities identified violations of the Clean Air Act’s Risk Management Plan requirements. In addition, the Wyman’s settlement includes allegations that the company failed to comply with the Clean Air Act’s General Duty Clause for one refrigeration system that had less than 10,000 pounds. of ammonia. 

The three cases allege failures to identify, analyze and control certain hazards, failure to document compliance with certain good engineering practices, and equipment maintenance violations.

Wyman’s told Mainebiz that it is currently in full compliance with the latest ammonia refrigeration accident prevention requirements, while Tyson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

David Cash, the EPA’s New England regional administrator said, "Despite EPA’s efforts to improve compliance at facilities that use anhydrous ammonia as a refrigerant, our inspectors continue to see many troubling violations of the Clean Air Act’s chemical accident prevention requirements – in particular, failure to identify common hazards and follow industry standards of care during the operation of these refrigeration systems."

“It’s imperative that companies comply with Clean Air Act requirements in order to protect facility workers and surrounding communities,” he added. “Particularly in rural areas, if a chemical accident occurs, it can take time for trained HazMat responders to arrive. We are pleased to say that, as a result of the Jasper Wyman & Son settlement’s Supplemental Environmental Projects, the Cherryfield Fire Department will be better prepared to respond to chemical emergencies.”

Wyman’s ‘in full compliance’

In a statement emailed to Mainebiz, Wyman’s said, “The safety of our employees is our absolute priority, and as such, Jasper Wyman & Son respects the EPA’s duty to ensure compliance. This settlement is related to allegations that Jasper Wyman & Son did not maintain full compliance with the latest ammonia refrigeration accident prevention requirements, identified during a routine inspection of the Cherryfield facility four years ago in 2019. To be clear, this is not in response to any type of accident or release.

“Ammonia refrigeration technology has been a widely accepted, industry-standard means of refrigeration since the early 1900s, and Jasper Wyman & Son has safely used ammonia refrigeration technology for decades," the statement added. "Ammonia is a common, naturally occurring ‘green refrigerant’ gas essential to many biological processes that is among the most efficient means of processing frozen and unfrozen foods.

"Today, we are in full compliance with the latest accident prevention requirements, and we have taken additional steps to ensure our employees and local first responders are as prepared as possible in the event of an emergency.”

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