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EPA fines Costco $16,844 for failing to report hazardous chemical inventory

Release Date: 9/24/2003
Contact Information: Wendy L. Chavez, (415) 947-4248

SAN FRANCISCO -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today fined Costco Wholesale Corporation $16,844 for failing to report to the appropriate local and state authorities the amount its Tolleson, Ariz, facility was storing of extremely hazardous chemicals for the year 2000.

The company's cold storage warehouse was storing 18,000 pounds of liquid ammonia in a closed circuit refrigeration system, and 134,360 pounds of sulfuric acid and 188,535 pounds of lead both contained in forklift batteries and charging batteries.

The federal emergency planning and community-right-to-know law requires companies to report amounts of ammonia and sulfuric acid if they exceed 500 pounds. The reportable quantity for lead is 10,000 pounds.

"Facilities that store hazardous chemicals have a responsibility to provide prompt and accurate information about the chemicals they're storing," said Keith Takata, the EPA's Superfund division director for the Pacific Southwest. "Without this information, state and local emergency responders cannot be adequately prepared to protect our communities in the event of a chemical release."

Sulfuric acid and ammonia are classified by the Occupational Safety & Health Administration as extremely hazardous chemicals. Sulfuric acid is highly reactive with water, while ammonia will react with acids. The substances can be absorbed into the body by inhalation, through the skin and by ingestion, causing irritation and nervous system effects. Lead is a cumulative poison and can be absorbed into the body through the skin and ingestion, causing symptoms such as muscle weakness and in extreme cases coma and death.

The company reported almost a year after the due date.

Federal law requires that the owner or operator of a regulated facility to annually submit by March 1 a complete hazardous chemical inventory to the local and state emergency response commission and to the local fire department when the amount exceeds a specific quantity.