JEFFERSON CITY–– MFA Inc., an agricultural cooperative, unlawfully released anhydrous ammonia that injured residents and employees near their facilities, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) claims in federal court.
According to the lawsuit filed on July 2 in the U.S. District Court of the Western District of Missouri, MFA Inc. and MFA Enterprises Inc. violated the Clean Air Act by allowing in excess amount of the hazardous chemical to be released into the air.
Anhydrous ammonia is a colorless, highly irritating gas with a sharp, suffocating odor, the suit states. Symptoms include burning of the eyes, nose and throat after breathing even small amounts. Higher doses can cause coughing or choking. Exposure to high levels of anhydrous ammonia can cause death from a swollen throat or from chemical burns to the lungs.
"As a result, employees, the surrounding public and the environment are at risk of exposure to this extremely hazardous substance if it is released," the complaint states.
EPA region 7 is handling the lawsuit.
The EPA conducted inspections at MFA facilities in Centralia, Jefferson City, Rich Hill, New Cambria and Martinsburg. The agency found numerous violations of risk management program regulations and the release of anhydrous ammonia resulting in injuries.
MFA owns and operates more than 140 retail farm supply centers in Missouri. The MFA facilities distribute anhydrous ammonia to farmers, who inject it into the ground as fertilizer. The facilities store large amounts of anhydrous ammonia in bulk tanks and transfer it to nurse tanks.
There are nine facilities subject to the action: Centralia, Rock Port, Pattonsburg, Hale, Saint Joseph, Jefferson City, Rich Hill, New Cambria and Martinsburg.
The lawsuit seeks to assess civil penalties of up to $37,500 per day, per violation of the Clean Air Act occurring before Nov. 3, 2015, and to $97,229 for each violation occurring after Nov. 2, 2015.
Acting assistant Attorney General Jeffrey H. Wood of the U.S. Department of Justice represents the interets of the EPA in the suit. He is joined by Howard Bunch, the senior attorney for EPA Region 7.