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Originally published June 14, 2012 at 6:14 PM | Page modified June 14, 2012 at 7:19 PM

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American Seafoods pays penalty for ozone-depleting gas

The big Seattle seafood processor will pay $700,000 in penalties and spend $9 million to $15 million to switch several ships' refrigerant systems under an agreement with the EPA.

Seattle Times business reporter

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Two units of Seattle-based American Seafoods Group will pay $700,000 in penalties and spend $9 million to $15 million to switch several ships' refrigerant systems so they don't damage the atmosphere's ozone layer.

The settlement resolved a complaint by the Environmental Protection Agency that the company had violated the Clean Air Act.

"We think the penalty is fair and it's something we are prepared to pay," said Matthew Latimer, chief legal officer for American Seafoods. He said converting the ships to newer refrigeration systems "is something we are required to do anyway by 2020 so we are just excelling the deadline." The company has already converted two of six ships, he said.

The company used an ozone-depleting refrigerant, known as R-22, from 2006 to 2009 and imported 154,000 pounds without allowances, according to the EPA.

The U.S. uses a system of allowances to restrict the amount of R-22 brought into the country.

Latimer said the company became aware of the problem at the end of 2008 when Customs officials flagged a shipment of the refrigerant at the border.

The company notified the EPA and has been working with the agency for about three years to reduce refrigerant emissions.

The EPA also alleged the company failed to repair refrigerant leaks in a timely manner, to verify repairs, keep records of repairs and use certified employees. American Seafoods did not admit any liability in the agreement.

Emissions that deplete the ozone layer can cause increased ultraviolet radiation to reach Earth, raising the risk of cancer, cataracts and impaired immune systems, according to the EPA. Ultraviolet radiation can also damage crops and might adversely affect phytoplankton, which is the base of the ocean food chain.

R-22 is on the list of ozone-depleting substances to be phased out due to the Montreal Protocol, an international treaty.

"The seafood industry relies on refrigerants, and I am happy to see that American Seafoods Company is switching to nonozone-depleting refrigerants as a result of this settlement," said EPA manager Jeff KenKnight.

American Seafoods Group is one of the largest harvesters and at-sea processors of pollock and hake and sells its products in the U.S., Asia and Europe.

Johanna Somers: 206-464-3714 or jsomers@seattletimes.com

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