St. Helens chemical manufacturer pleads guilty for failing to notify federal authorities about ammonia release in 2015

SPOTLIGHT FILE PHOTO - Dyno-Nobel Inc., a chemical manufacturing plant in St. Helens. Updated: A urea-manufacturing plant in St. Helens pleaded guilty Friday, Feb. 23, to felony charges for releasing large-scale volumes of ammonia in 2015 and failing to properly report it.

Dyno-Nobel Inc., a chemical manufacturing plant located off of Highway 30 in St. Helens, pleaded guilty to a Class E felony for violating the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act in July and August 2015 when the company discharged six tons of anhydrous ammonia vapor and did not notify the National Responses Center for nearly a week afterward.

Dyno-Nobel will be required to pay a $250,000 criminal fine and will be on a two-year probationary period where the company will be required to implement remedial measures, according to the plea deal. Class E felonies carry a maximum fine of $500,000 and up to five years of probation.

"Many of the nation's environmental laws exist specifically to minimize the dangers essential industries pose to surrounding communities and this criminal conviction will serve as an important reminder that the EPA and the United States Attorney's Office will work together to ensure that violations of those laws do not go unpunished," Billy Williams, a U.S. attorney for district of Oregon, stated in a news release from the Oregon Department of Justice.

In 2015, employees at the facility attempted to restart the urea plant over a three-day period starting on July 30, 2015, which subsequently caused a series of massive discharges of the vapor, the plea agreement indicates. The release of the vapors was not reported until Aug. 7, although federal law requires reports to be made immediately. Columbia City residents reported foul odors, eye irritation and difficulty breathing, the plea adds.

"Not only did this defendant release over six tons of anhydrous ammonia, impacting the neighboring community, they impeded response actions by failing to report the release," said Jeanne Proctor, EPA's special agent in charge of the Criminal Investigation Division in Seattle. "EPA will not tolerate this blatant disregard for public safety."

Urea is commonly used as a fertilizer and feed supplement.

Dyno-Nobel is a Delaware corporation and wholly owned subsidiary of IPL Group.

The company entered its guilty plea at Friday's hearing through Senior Vice President and Secretary Jeff Droubay.

Droubay noted in a public statement that the facility has invested in new technology and improvements to help control emissions and reduce the chance that other releases will happen in the future. ""The health and safety of our employees and communities in which we operate is our first priority," said Droubay said in a statement Friday. "For this reason, we will continue to invest and take steps to assure that releases like the one we experienced in 2015 are much less likely to recur."

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