Pipeline Co. Pleads Guilty, Pays $1 Million for Fish Kill

Mid-America Pipeline Company, pleaded guilty recently to negligently releasing 200,000 gallons of ammonia into a Kansas creek, requiring the evacuation of nearby residents and killing 25,000 fish. The company agreed to pay a $1 million criminal penalty.

In October 2004, a pipeline owned by the company ruptured approximately six miles west of Kingman, Kan., releasing approximately 204,000 gallons of ammonia into Smoots Creek. Several endangered species were among the fish killed. The company failed to provide correct information to the National Response Center and local responders about the magnitude of the release, delaying a more comprehensive response. The ammonia spread through at least 12 miles of the creek.

"Failure to accurately report spills of toxic chemicals weakens EPA's ability to effectively respond to chemical incidents," said Granta Nakayama, EPA's assistant administrator for enforcement and compliance assurance. "The company's negligence made the situation worse."

As required by law, the company notified the National Response Center, but incorrectly reported that only 20 gallons of ammonia had been released to the creek. For ammonia, companies must report any releases over 100 pounds, which is equivalent to approximately 15 gallons. The company did not submit a revised notification until about six weeks after the release.

"The ruptured pipe created a vapor cloud forty feet high, and caused a number of residents to evacuate their homes," said U.S. Attorney Eric Melgren. "When liquid ammonia flowed into a 10-mile stretch of a tributary of Smoots Creek, more than 25,000 fish were killed."

Anhydrous ammonia is a highly corrosive, toxic and hazardous liquid, and can be fatal to humans if ingested, inhaled or absorbed through the skin.

Once notified, the National Response Center engages federal support of state and local emergency response activities. The EPA and other emergency responders use this information to evaluate the nature and extent of a hazardous substance release, prevent exposure and minimize consequences.

The company pleaded guilty to negligently violating the federal Clean Water. The criminal penalty will be paid into the Oil Spill and Hazardous Substances Clean-Up Trust Fund.

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