An Ontario, Calif., food processing plant operator has agreed to pay $157,000 in fines in connection with a release of toxic ammonia, the Environmental Protection Agency said Thursday.
Ventura Foods was cited for failing to immediately notify authorities after its equipment leaked anhydrous ammonia, a poisonous gas, and for deficiencies in its accident prevention and emergency response plans.
EPA investigators logged more than two dozen anhydrous ammonia releases at the facility since 2007, including a September 2010 leak into the air and sewer line that was large enough that the company should have reported it immediately under federal environmental laws meant to protect the community. Instead, the company waited until 16 hours after the leak to call authorities, the EPA said.
Ventura Foods manufactures margarine, salad dressing, mayonnaise and other oil-based food products. The company stores 24,000 pounds of anhydrous ammonia and uses it to chill its products during processing, the EPA said.
Exposure to anhydrous ammonia vapors can damage eyes, cause temporary blindness and irritate the skin, throat and lungs.
Most of the ammonia releases, the EPA said, were caused by flaws in the plant's design and faulty equipment, which has since been upgraded to prevent future leaks.
"We have taken corrective measures," the Brea-based company said in a statement. "Ventura Foods takes these matters very seriously and is dedicated to operating safely and responsibly."
EPA spokeswoman Nahal Mogharabi said in an email that "there were no impacts to the surrounding community as a result of these releases."