SHARON TWP., Ohio — Trustees in a Medina County, Ohio, township are challenging the state department of agriculture to reconsider its permitting process for storage of anhydrous ammonia used in agriculture.
The trustees of Sharon Township filed a complaint against the department mid-January in Licking County Common Pleas Court, citing concerns with a 12,000-gallon anhydrous ammonia tank at a farm located along Beach Road.
Anhydrous ammonia is a compound formed from nitrogen and hydrogen, long used by farmers as a fertilizer.
According to the trustees’ complaint, the regulations of the agriculture department “fail completely to provide reasonable protection for the health, safety and welfare of the citizens” of the township.
The complaint says the tank puts the township and Ohio public “at risk of serious physical harm, including but not limited to disfigurement and death.”
The township trustees, counters the department’s court motion, have no legal standing, because the board does not have “general authority over the health and welfare of the township’s residents.”
The ODA’s motion also states the case “fails as a matter of law because it rests entirely upon the facially incorrect assertion that ODA has a statutory duty to regulate anhydrous ammonia tanks…”
The department of agriculture has issued the permit to install the tank, said Communications Director Andy Ware, but has yet to issue the permit to operate.
The tank is licensed to Bruce Simmons III, proprietor of South Spring Farms. He could not be reached for comment before presstime.
Medina County Assistant Prosecutor Brian Richter said trustees are concerned about the populated area where the tank has been installed, which is within a couple miles of the city of Wadsworth, and Interstate 71.
He said public officials are not opposed to use of anhydrous on farms, but instead take issue with the size of this tank, and that is a permanent tank, as opposed to a “nursing” tank.
“This specific tank is a permanent tank in the capacity of 12,000 gallons,” he said. “We believe there is a safety issue with that tank going into the area that it’s going to.”
Ware said to date, the department has approved 199 anhydrous ammonia storage tanks around the state, 69 of which are stationary facilities on farms.
Richter and trustees argue regulations are too lax. The complaint criticizes ODA for allegedly not limiting the size of the tank, not requiring a background check of the proposed installer or user of the tank, and not requiring a safety system in event of a catastrophic release.
The complaint charges, “in effect, the regulations, as drafted, legalize the storage of a deadly chemical that would otherwise be a public nuisance.”
The complaint asks the court to issue a declaratory judgment, finding the current regulations “unreasonable,” and to issue a temporary restraining order and injunction prohibiting ODA from approving use of “any permanent anhydrous ammonia storage tank on a farm or fields” until more reasonable regulations are put into place.
In its response, the ODA is asking the complaint be dismissed entirely, stating “…the entire complaint rests upon a house of cards which is incapable of standing as a matter of law.”
A court hearing is set for March 8 at the Licking County Common Pleas Court.
An Ohio State University publication says anhydrous ammonia can be handled and used safely, if safety recommendations are followed and the units are properly inspected and maintained. Safety standards also are available through the American Society of Agricultural Engineers.
They cover such topics as tank and valve care, emergency preparedness and operation protection, labels and signs and highway transportation. Tanks traveling on public roadways in Ohio cannot exceed 25 mph.