EPA found potential violations at Hawaiian Ice Company prior to ammonia leak

A federal finding reveals several potential violations for a company that caused a chemical leak at Honolulu Harbor earlier this week.

The leak happened Monday afternoon at Hawaiian Ice Company at Pier 38, which uses ammonia as a refrigerant. It caused the evacuation of more than a hundred people and one person was sent to the hospital in serious condition.

Hawaiian Ice Company wouldn’t talk to us on camera Thursday, but the owner said over the phone that the company is currently dealing with its own team of investigators trying to find out what caused the chemical leak.

Meanwhile, we’ve learned a routine Environmental Protection Agency inspection determined the “company failed to design and maintain a safe facility.” The EPA says a random inspection was conducted in June 2016, and Hawaiian Ice responded this past February.

EPA inspectors noted the company failed to replace pressure relief valves at least every five years, an engine room ammonia sensor was not calibrated since it was originally installed, and the company had incomplete operating procedures, including for the transfer of ammonia.

View the EPA’s notice of inspection and findings here.

In a response, Hawaiian Ice Company disputed several of the potential violations, and insisted it was up to code with city and state regulations.

Its response to the ammonia sensor starts by telling EPA that the standard it’s basing its finding on has not been adopted in Honolulu, adding it was “unable to locate any records of past calibrations.”

The company also said that “the facility does not have incomplete operating procedures” and “having the procedure in writing is not specifically required.”

Overall, Hawaiian Ice told the agency it had been safely operating for years. The EPA says it is still reviewing the company’s reply.

View Hawaiian Ice Company’s full response here.

The Honolulu Fire Department says it inspected Hawaiian Ice Company on April 14, 2017, and found no visible violations or hazards.

We asked the Hawaii Department of Health, which enforces safety codes, why certain Hawaii laws do not follow EPA federal guidelines.

The state responded with this statement: “The Hawaii Department of Health tracks chemical inventories and responds to chemical emergencies. All companies in the State of Hawaii are required to comply with both EPA and state regulations.”

We brought the question to state Reps. Chris Lee and Gene Ward.

“I think the bottom line is ensuring safety. If there is a lapse where state or local ordinance are not meeting federal minimums, then we obviously have to take a look at something there,” Lee said.

“It’s a surprise event where the ammonia escapes and suddenly we find there’s an EPA contradiction going on in the state and city regulations,” Ward said. “(It’s) very surprising. It should be corrected. If it needs to be legislation, we’re going to be gone in about five days. We’ll pick it up and run with it next year.”

Hawaiian Ice says it will be releasing a statement on its findings for the cause of the ammonia leak sometime Friday.

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