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Trident Seafoods to spend up to $23 million in EPA settlement

Trident Seafoods

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said the seafood processing company violated the Clean Air Act on numerous occasions. Now, the company has committed up to $23 million to improve its compliance as part of a proposed settlement reached Feb. 19 with the EPA and the Department of Justice.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Trident violated the Clean Air Act by failing to promptly repair leaks of the refrigerant R-22. In a statement, the EPA said that between 2009 and 2016, Trident Seafoods failed to repair leaking refrigeration appliances, and in more than 280 instances it did not create adequate servicing and compliance records. The agency also said that at times, Trident used uncertified technicians to work on refrigerant equipment.  

Trident spokesman Joe Plesha says the violations were the result of poor organization.

“Any sort of leaks that occur on a freon refrigeration systems have to be repaired within a certain period of time. The repairs then have to be logged in. And over the years, we have not done that as diligently as we should have. So, we didn’t have records, for example, of some of the repairs that were done. We didn’t have those sorts of processes in place,” he said.

In addition to the $23 million the Seattle-based company has committed to spend to reduce coolant leaks and improve compliance, it will pay a $900,000 civil penalty.

Three of Trident’s pollock catcher-processor vessels that operate in the Bering Sea had refrigeration leaks: the Island Enterprise, the Kodiak Enterprise and the Seattle Enterprise, as well as the freighter vessel Eastern Wind. As part of the settlement, Trident will retrofit or retire appliances on a total of 14 vessels to use a less harmful refrigerant.

Plesha said that the changes will not affect their processing operations.

“It won’t have any impact on our processing whatsoever. And a large number of the retrofits are on vessels that are relatively old and needed to be upgraded in any event. So it is a costly process, but the world is moving away from freon anyway, so it's something that eventually we will have to do,” he said.

EPA public affairs specialist Suzanne Skadowski said that Trident was one of several retail and seafood industry companies the EPA requested records from.

“In 2015 and 2016 we were reaching out to these companies knowing that this was a problem for at least some of them and maybe all of them – that they’ve got aging refrigeration equipment, either in their stores for the grocery stores, or else out on these fishing and processing vessels and facilities,” she said.

The EPA stipulated that when Trident failed to promptly repair leaks of the refrigerant R-22, it leaked at high rates for thousands of days, releasing more than 200,000 pounds of the gas into the atmosphere.  

“They emitted over 200,000 and now they’re saving 100,000. And so if we’re saying 100,000 pounds is almost 150,000 cars, those emissions were equivalent to 300,000 cars. That’s a lot in one year,” Skadowski explained.  

To prevent oversights of this magnitude in the future, Plesha said that Trident has implemented an environmental management system.

“Actually, starting back in 2016, we’ve developed a really comprehensive record-keeping, monitoring program, testing program, as well as proactive measures to make sure that leaks don’t occur," he said. "On our larger vessels now, we at least annually remove all the freon from the refrigeration system and pressure-test the entire system to determine if there are any leaks. We now have leak alarms throughout the systems, etc.”

This is the second settlement Trident has reached with the EPA in less than a year.

Last March, Trident paid $297,000 for Clean Water Act violations, specifically for discharging more fish waste than was legal. In 2011, Trident paid $2.5 million for a similar settlement for violations that occurred in the early 2000s.

This most recent settlement is subject to a 30-day public comment period and court approval. 

Trident is one of the largest seafood processing companies in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest; 11 of its 17 processing plants nationwide are in Alaska. Locations include Naknek, Sand Point, Chignik Lagoon and False Pass. 

Contact the author at isabelle@kdlg.org or 907-842-2200.

Izzy Ross is the news director at KDLG, the NPR member station in Dillingham. She reports, edits, and hosts stories from around the Bristol Bay region, and collaborates with other radio stations across the state.