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U.S. EPA, U.S. Department of Justice Finalize Settlement with Sanger, Calif., Winery over Deadly Ammonia Release

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Feb. 05, 2018

The U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have reached an agreement with Gibson Wine Co. to resolve federal environmental violations related to an anhydrous ammonia release at its winemaking facility in Sanger, Calif., that led to the death of one of Gibson Wine’s workers, triggered evacuations and required a fire department response. Gibson Wine will pay a $330,000 civil penalty and is required to make a series of improvements to its facility valued at approximately $300,000.

“Facilities using extremely hazardous substances such as ammonia must abide by federal laws to protect the safety of workers, emergency responders, and the community to avoid such deadly or other serious accidental chemical releases,” said Alexis Strauss, EPA’s Acting Regional Administrator for the Pacific Southwest. “This case is part of EPA’s high-priority work to reduce the risks of accidental releases at industrial and chemical facilities through compliance assistance and enforcement of good chemical management practices.”

EPA’s January 2013 inspection was prompted by a release of more than 280 pounds of anhydrous ammonia at the facility in September 2012. During the inspection, EPA found that Gibson Wine violated the Clean Air Act by failing to identify hazards, design and maintain a safe facility, and minimize the consequences of an accidental release. Some of the hazards EPA’s inspectors found were:

  • The lack of readily available devices designed to prevent a release of ammonia from oil drain lines.
  • Inadequate operating procedures and insufficient employee training to assure that employees understand and adhere to the operating procedures.
  • The lack of labeling that would allow operators to identify ammonia refrigeration system pipes and equipment.

The company also failed to immediately notify the National Response Center and the California Office of Emergency Services as soon as it knew of the release, in violation of the federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act and Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act.

Under the terms of the settlement, the company will install a computer control system for its anhydrous ammonia refrigeration system, with automated controls and alarms; move one of its ammonia refrigeration systems to a safer location that is farther away from employee bathrooms, offices, and a breakroom; conduct an audit of ammonia refrigeration equipment to identify any further improvements that Gibson Wine must undertake; and label refrigeration pipes and equipment.

The consent decree for this settlement was lodged in the federal district court by the U.S. Department of Justice and is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval. A copy of the decree will be available on the Department of Justice website at: https://www.justice.gov/enrd/consent-decree/us-v-gibson-wine-co

For more information about the National Enforcement Initiative: Reducing Risks of Accidental Releases at Industrial and Chemical Facilities, please visit: https://www.epa.gov/enforcement/national-enforcement-initiative-reducing-risks-accidental-releases-industrial-and

For more information about compliance assistance and resources for the ammonia refrigeration sector, please visit: https://www.epa.gov/enforcement/compliance-assistance-tools-and-resources-ammonia-refrigeration-sector

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