EPA Fines Iowa Fertilizer Distributor for Violating Toxic Substance Regulation

A news release issued last Friday by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said that the agency has resolved Clean Air Act (CAA) violations with Farmers Union Cooperative, a Postville, Iowa fertilizer distributor. The respondent will pay just over $52,000 in penalties for alleged violations of the CAA’s Risk Management Plan Rule requiring certain entities to identify the potential effects of a chemical accident, enumerate preventative steps a facility is taking, and specify its emergency response procedures.

The press release explains that the Farmers Union Cooperative stores approximately 457,000 pounds of anhydrous ammonia, a regulated toxic substance. According to the EPA, anhydrous ammonia is corrosive to the skin, eyes, and lungs and high levels of exposure can be fatal.

After reviewing company records, the EPA reportedly determined that Farmers Union Cooperative failed to comply with regulations protecting workers and the neighboring community from an accidental release of anhydrous ammonia. Specifically, the EPA accused the fertilizer distributor of failing to update its plan for preventing and responding to a potential release. 

The agency also cited the distributor for failing to update its “hazard review,” maintain operating procedures, and perform and keep compliance audits. In response to these determinations, Farmers Union Cooperative reportedly took the necessary remedial steps to return its facility to compliance.

The press release notes that such regulated facilities often fail to manage worker and community safety, citing the approximately 150 catastrophic accidents that happen each year. According to the EPA, minimizing risks from the accidental releases of hazardous substances at industrial and chemical facilities is a top priority for the agency, which identified this as one of seven goals for its 2019 National Compliance Initiatives.