ventura coastal

The Ventura Coast, LLC, plant near Visalia is facing a federal penalty over storage of anhydrous ammonia. Image via Google Earth

published on August 31, 2022 - 12:42 PM
Written by The Business Journal Staff

A Visalia-area citrus processing plant is the latest local facility facing federal penalties for its handling of a hazardous substance.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced Wednesday a $270,000 civil penalty for Ventura Coastal, LLC, that resolves Clean Air Act chemical risk management violations. The EPA accused Ventura Coastal of improperly managing refrigeration equipment containing more than 10,000 pounds of anhydrous ammonia.

Ventura Coastal and Sunkist Growers are part of a joint venture that produces citrus-based beverages.

Last week, a Saputo Cheese plant in Tulare agreed to a $170,000 EPA penalty over an anhydrous ammonia release. In 2018 Gibson Wine Co. agreed to a $330,000 penalty over a 2012 incident when an ammonia release led to the death of one of its workers.

In May 2019 the EPA inspected the Visalia facility and determined the company failed to keep up-to-date information on equipment, failed to label piping and equipment and failed to inspect equipment and correct deficiencies, among other violations.

“It is so critical that facilities like the Ventura Coastal citrus processing plant in Visalia prevent dangerous incidents by handling extremely hazardous substances properly. If they violate the law, they will face Clean Air Act penalties,” said EPA Pacific Southwest Regional Administrator Martha Guzman. “This settlement will protect the nearby Visalia community from future chemical accidents and minimize the danger if incidents do occur again.”

The EPA added in a news release that the community north of Visalia where the plant is located “is disproportionally affected by environmental burdens, and incidents like this raise significant environmental justice concerns.”

Thousands of facilities nationwide make, use and store hazardous substances including anhydrous ammonia, according to the EPA. The chemical can cause serious and often irreversible health effects when released through inhalation or skin contact. It is also highly flammable.

The EPA said about 150 “catastrophic accidents” occur at ammonia refrigeration facilities each year that result in fatalities, series injuries, evacuations and other environmental impacts.

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