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Upper Macungie Company Fined by EPA

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says SunOpta failed to tell agencies about ammonia release.

By Jack Tobias

A Canadian organic food company that operates an Upper Macungie processing facility has agreed to pay a $19,049 fine for not notifying all required agencies about a September 2012 ammonia release, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

An EPA web posting says SunOpta did report the ammonia release to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. But it did not immediately report the ammonia release, as required, to two other agencies -- the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency and the Lehigh County Emergency Services office.

SunOpta's Upper Macungie plant is at 7108 Daniels Road in an area north of Tilghman Street and east of Mill Road.

The company did not respond to an email request for comment Friday. A phone operator at the company's headquarters in the Toronto-area town of Brampton said the information officer was traveling Friday but would be checking emails.

The EPA posting says the Upper Macungie facility released at least 450 pounds of anhydrous ammonia, a hazardous chemical, into the air on Sept. 12, 2012.

"Employees were evacuated and the Upper Macungie Fire Department responded to a 911 call, determined that no action was needed and allowed employees to return to the facility," the posting says.

The settlement penalty, according to the posting, "reflects the company’s good faith and cooperation with EPA in resolving this matter."

The posting continues: "In the settlement, the company did not admit liability for the alleged violations, but has stated that it is now in compliance with applicable regulatory requirements."

Not reporting the ammonia release to all required agencies violated the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act. The EPA posting says the act:

"Mandates that facilities immediately notify state and local emergency response officials of significant releases of hazardous chemicals, and to provide follow-up reports on response actions and public health effects. This information ensures that state and local officials have timely and complete information to respond to chemical emergencies."

SunOpta, according to its website, "is a leading global organic food company specializing in sourcing, processing and packaging of natural and certified organic food products."

"SunOpta's core product offerings are grain, fiber and fruit based, and include organic ingredients, private label beverages, natural sweeteners and frozen fruits and vegetables," the website says.

A December 2011 story posted on The Morning Call says the Upper Macungie facility would be producing baby food, sport drinks, fruit purees and other products packaged in flexible, resealable pouches at the Daniels Road site.

The global company, the posting said, had 2010 sales exceeding $900 million and has more than 30 food plants in the Midwest and West Coast. The Upper Macungie plant was to be its first on the East Coast.

A March 2013 posting by The Call said the Upper Macungie facility opened in August 2012 and was planning to double its processing capacity.

The posting quoted from a company news release that said the expansion was planned for the third quarter of 2013 in response to high demand for flexible resealable-pouch products produced at the plant.
John January 18, 2014 at 08:45 AM
So a Canadian Organic food company comes to town in August 2012 and releases 450 pounds of a hazardous chemical into the air in September 2012, less than a month into its existence, sitting just down the road from residential areas, and we hear about it now? $19,000 fine to a $900 million company, while they toxify out neighborhoods with chemicals? I don't even know where to begin....
Ala58 January 18, 2014 at 12:07 PM
I am sick reading this. Resident have a right o know asap this happened especially down wind. Another arrogant decision showing us how much upper mac cares about it's residents and how out of control this township is. More horrible quality of life. Isn't about time we change the zoning or put a moratorium on more industrial/warehouse development. Also when I read about the air products land wanting more warehouses all I can say is Upper Mac must be out of their MINDS. THIS IS ONE OF THE WORSE PLACES TO LIVE ANYWHERE... IF YOU AGREE POST!
Reading and Writing January 20, 2014 at 10:28 AM
I've contacted the company and they've not responded. The way to begin is through investigation of eco- lawsuits and in the meantime- demand test results and to monitor the activity of the township to make certain they are not putting the health of residents at risk. This is not likely to be the only company going spewing toxic chemicals with their health risks and storing toxic chemicals in your neighborhoods. There are tankers sitting in rail yards by Tilghman- what's in there? No one knows. UM strictly regulates it's residents erecting fences they demand for aesthetics, but residents air is being poisoned and their children are at risk. You don't have to sit back and allow your health and well-being to be at the mercy of industry, profit and politics.
John January 20, 2014 at 11:15 AM
I guess this is one of those really busy tasks that a new "Manager" will take on. In the meantime, do residents take this upon themselves, through discussion or class-action legal options? Does it seem fair that a Canadian company pulls into our neighborhoods, spews what the EPA finds as findable, and we as residents simply say oh well? I think not. Accountability remains in this area, and this company and our leadership needs to be held accountable.
Reading and Writing January 20, 2014 at 12:55 PM
The focus is off the mark if it 's on a " foreign company " We have local businesses that are storing toxic chemicals in tankers in our backyards and spewing "acceptable levels" of toxic substances into our air. It's difficult to fix when the general political consensus is all that matters is the money these companies pump into our township & how it keeps our taxes low. Suck down ammonia and make you sick later or pay the lowest taxes in the area today? Many would pick the tax break today and the companies and township know it-- it's a free pass. Have you ever seen the Sensitive Area risk maps that list our area in one of the most dangerous targets for terrorist attack due to the chemical corporation and gas lines in our area? It's an uphill battle , but hey, we're living cheap and easy!
Cicero January 26, 2014 at 05:00 PM
First I think you are over reacting - mankind has always lived near industry. If you don't like it move, you chose to live near an industrial zone, if you live next to an open field there may be a chance something is going to be built there. As far as the fine is concerned I think its ridiculous. They reported to the DEP but neglected to report to the other alphabet soup named agencies. Why cant the government talk to itself. 450 lbs of ammonia is not much and the fire department cleared the scene and allowed the workers to go back. If there was an issue they would have notified you. I am more concerned about your kids smashing mailboxes - tell them to knock it off!
John January 27, 2014 at 07:23 AM
I can see that the real point wasn't grasped by some of the readership. No, it's not 'foreign vs domestic', and yes, contrary to most beliefs, there are numerous chemical operations in our area, as they do pay taxes. As far as the point, it is the FAILURE of our elected officials to notify the general public in a timely fashion regarding the safety of our neighborhoods. And with all due respect, having readership assure me that the amount released is safe, just carries zero effect. If you don't like it, move? Really? So if you don't like kids busting mailboxes, move. Doesn't really satisfy your needs, does it? The fact that we hear about this 18 months after the fact is disturbing. And apparently, according to the EPA, it is worth $19,000. Finally, it's not about the money, but the quality of life.
Momatude January 27, 2014 at 09:27 AM
@Cicero- an apt choice of moniker. If the company was required to report a release of this amount of chemical- then it was too much. No one chooses to live in an area that is unsafe or should be advised to move from an area due to the irresponsible actions of any corporation or local government- that's ridiculous, fiscally / morally ignorant, and, obviously, globally short-sighted. A release of chemicals that could put the population at risk isn't a buyer-beware situation, and if you believe it is, then, you're a part of the problem. Albeit, alone you are a rather insignificant part of the equation, but corporations rely on the larger subset of the population like yourself who misunderstand the issues and sanction lack of attention to detail that can lead to potentially dangerous situations. This isn't about too much government, Cicero, it's about safety and necessary oversight of those who are charged with making certain dangerous situations are avoided and the people who also pay their taxes are alerted to possible safety hazards. Health and safety procedures within our Township should not be in place to make it easier for businesses to prosper at the expense of citizens. If you believe the only concern for neighborhoods and residents is the safety of our mailboxes you are sadly mistaken and should take the time to become educated on the issues surrounding government, corporate responsibility and the factors that contribute to the poor health of our population.
Cicero January 28, 2014 at 07:57 PM
I think some of you are making a mountain out of a mole hill. If the fire department deemed the situation unsafe there would have been an emergency notice to the community. This company did report the incident, my beef is that the various agencies are not talking to each other. You speak of class action suites being the worst place to live and so forth. Good companies make mistakes and they rectify the error and move on. This company has provided jobs for over 50 people,and the building itself was constructed in 1985 well before the surrounding homes were built. In some respects it is a buyer beware situation, if people were more aware of their surroundings perhaps they wouldn't be so blindsided when something meaningful occurs. If you did know about this event at the time it happened what would you have done?

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