BELFAST, Maine — A downtown potato-processing company will pay more than $140,000 to cover penalties and pay for safety improvements in order to resolve claims by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that it had violated federal clean air laws.
Penobscot McCrum had faced as much as $320,000 in penalties over its safety measures and use of ammonia after the EPA issued a complaint against it last fall. In that complaint, safety inspectors said the company had underreported the amount of ammonia used at the plant and had failed to develop appropriate emergency plans in case of ammonia leaks, among other concerns listed.
In the settlement, announced Friday afternoon by the federal agency, Penobscot McCrum will pay $60,500 in civil penalties and spend $83,400 on equipment for emergency responders and on public safety improvements at the facility.
The company will provide emergency response equipment to the Belfast Fire Department and the Maine Department of Environmental Protection so that members of those organizations can better detect and deal with releases of ammonia and other toxic substances, according to a press release issued by the federal agency’s New England regional office. Penobscot McCrum also will install an enhanced ammonia detection system, alarm system and security system at the plant.
“EPA’s biggest concern was that the closest emergency responders specially trained to respond to ammonia releases were located about an hour away,” Curt Spalding, regional administrator of the agency’s New England office, said. “Yet the facility was in a downtown location where a release of this toxic gas could quickly injure people.”
Anhydrous ammonia, which Penobscot McCrum uses in its refrigeration system, is corrosive to the skin, eyes and lungs. It also is flammable and potentially explosive.
Last spring, the company also was mandated to pay a $15,090 fine to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection after discharging ammonia into the tidewaters of the Passagassawakeag River. The complaint against it by the EPA was the only Clean Air Act case filed against a Maine company in the fiscal year that ended on Sept. 30, 2015.
Jay McCrum, the chief executive officer of the family-owned company, said last October that the company was working with the Waldo County Local Emergency Planning Committee to create a better emergency plan.
“I think the EPA is carrying a very big stick for anybody in business today,” he said at the time. “Subsequent to this inspection, our company has hired a young man with great experience to head up our compliance. … We feel very good about all of this. I don’t feel anybody’s in danger at all. Our number one concern is the safety of our employees. If our employees are safe, the community is safe.”