Exposure to anhydrous ammonia can lead to serious health implications and even cause death in extreme cases.

Springville, Ark.-based Tyson Foods has reached an agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Justice that requires the company to conduct third-party audits and pay a $3.95 million fine for incidents in which anhydrous ammonia leaks caused one fatality, a number of injuries and property damage.

The company, which is one of the world's largest processors and marketers of chicken, beef and pork, agreed to settle the violations of the Clean Air Act which resulted in chemical accidents at its facilities in Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska, the EPA announced in a statement.

According to Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for the EPA's Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, exposure to the chemical can lead to serious health implications and even cause death in extreme cases. The agreement with Tyson Foods will guarantee that all safety practices are properly put in place and all employees are protected, she added. Apart from the huge penalty that the company has to pay, it also has to ensure that first responders are provided with emergency equipment and that pipe-testing is carried out, along with third-party audits of the facilities which are intended to reduce the risk of chemical releases, the EPA said. The experts conducting the audits will have to be approved by the EPA and be recognized experts in risk management program compliance.

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The chemical, anhydrous ammonia, is considered a toxic gas but is quite commonly used in industrial refrigeration systems. If people are exposed to it they can develop temporary blindness, eye damage and irritation of the skin, mouth, throat, respiratory tract and mucous membranes.

Ignacia Moreno, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division, commented that the agreement would ensure the facilities are safer not only for the employees but also for the communities near the company plants. The terms of the agreement would serve to mitigate the negative impact of anhydrous ammonia release by ensuring that Tyson Foods complies with the Risk Management Program under the Clean Air Act, Moreno explained.

Under the terms of the settlement, Tyson Foods is also required to rectify all violations and prove that corrective work has been completed. Testing of the pipes and the third-party audits will have to take place at all 23 facilities the company operates, the statement said. The company will have to replace all substandard pipes.

The $3.95 million penalty is not the only financial sanction that the EPA has imposed on Tyson Foods. The company has agreed to prepare and implement an additional environmental project to provide $300,000 worth of emergency response equipment for first responders in the communities in which Tyson operates facilities. The new equipment will facilitate responses to emergencies involving chemicals that are regulated pursuant to the CAA Risk Management Program, including anhydrous ammonia.