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Claire Hettinger is the 2019 Illinois Humanities Engagement Fellow for the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting.  Have a story idea, question or tip? Reach her at claire.hettinger@investigatemidwest.org. 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, fined a Kansas-based agribusiness supplier more than $70,000 late last month for violating the Clean Air Act in Oct. 2018. 

Frontier Ag, Inc. is a cooperative which offers grain, feed, processing, petroleum and other services throughout Northwest Kansas and Eastern Colorado.

Its three ammonia fertilizer facilities were found in violation of the Clean Air Act.

Each had 10,000 pounds of anhydrous ammonia on site, which puts them under Risk Management Program regulations. They are created to protect communities from accidental releases of hazardous substances, according to a statement released by the EPA. 

“Anhydrous ammonia presents a significant health hazard because it is corrosive to the skin, eyes and lungs. Exposure may result in injury or death,” according to the EPA. 

The Frontier Ag Inc. facilities “failed to submit, implement and update risk management plans for the release of anhydrous ammonia; failed to ensure that the facilities’ processes for handling anhydrous ammonia were designed in compliance with good engineering practices; failed to perform required tests and inspect processing equipment at the facilities; and failed to update required documentation,” according to the EPA. 

Brad Cowan, chief executive officer of Frontier Ag, Inc. said all the issues cited by the EPA were dealt with immediately and all improvements requested were made in a timely manner.

The EPA reported that after the citation, Frontier Ag Inc. updated the three facilities: two in Bird City, Kansas and one in Menlo, Kansas, into compliance. 

As part of the settlement, the company will pay a civil penalty of $71,652.

It will also update safety precautions at six ammonia fertilizer facilities by installing emergency shutoff valves and emergency stop buttons to be in compliance with federal regulations. The company estimated this will cost $55,000. 

“EPA has found that many regulated facilities are not adequately managing the risks they pose or ensuring the safety of their facilities in a way that is sufficient to protect surrounding communities,” according to the EPA statement. 

These risks lead to more than 150 catastrophic accidents each year at regulated facilities resulting in fatalities, injuries and environmental damage. 

More information is available here

Claire Hettinger is the 2019 Illinois Humanities Engagement Fellow for the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting. Have a story idea, question or tip? Reach her at claire.hettinger@investigatemidwest.org.