EPA settles with Vons chain over safety violations

Vons storefront sign. (Geri Lavrov / Getty Images)

(CNS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency settled with Vons Cos. Inc. over alleged violations of federal chemical-release prevention and reporting requirements at its dairy processing facility located in Commerce, the federal agency announced Wednesday.

The company will pay a $168,043 civil penalty, according to EPA.

In 2017, EPA inspectors found violations of the Clean Air Act's Risk Management Plan regulations at Jerseymaid Milk Products, a unit of Vons. The violations included deficiencies in the facility's process safety requirements, mechanical integrity program, documentation of personnel training, and follow- up on compliance audit findings, according to the EPA.

The facility also lacked necessary signs and labels, as well as auditory or visual alarms to alert employees of an ammonia release; and had inadequate emergency response measures, including ammonia detectors and emergency ventilation override switches, the agency alleged.

EPA Pacific Southwest Regional Administrator Mike Stoker said the settlement ensures that the Vons facility "will handle hazardous chemicals more safely. We're pleased to resolve these safety issues and will continue to work with facilities to improve risk-management practices and ensure the safety of nearby communities."

Thousands of facilities nationwide, many of which are in disproportionately affected communities, make, use and store extremely hazardous substances. Catastrophic accidents at these facilities -- historically about 150 each year -- result in fatalities and serious injuries, evacuations, and other harm to human health and the environment, Stoker said.

The case is part of EPA's National Compliance Initiative to reduce risks of accidental releases at anhydrous ammonia refrigeration facilities. Jerseymaid Milk Products' industrial refrigeration system uses large quantities of anhydrous ammonia, a toxic chemical highly corrosive to skin, eyes, and lungs, according to the EPA.