Environmental Protection

Catalyst Recycling Facility Resolves Wastewater Violations

Gulf Chemical & Metallurgical Corporation (GCMC) on May 28 announced it reached an agreement with the Travis County district attorney, resolving the state's criminal investigation into past operation of the company’s wastewater treatment system at its catalyst recycling facility in Freeport, Texas.

The plant recovers molybdenum, vanadium, nickel, cobalt and various alumina products to be sold and reused in chemical and metallurgical applications. This reclaiming process reduces the need for mining, conserves natural resources and converts a waste material into a raw material.

GCMC agreed to plead guilty to 11 felony violations of the Texas Water Code dating from June 2007 through January 2008 and to pay a fine of $2.75 million. The company also agreed to continue its commitment to upgrade the plant’s wastewater treatment system by implementing additional modifications (including design, operation and maintenance) recommended by a third-party engineering consultant. The majority of this work has been completed or is scheduled for completion in the near future. GCMC must submit a report to the district attorney within one year of the date of the agreement confirming that the work has been completed.

“This situation has been embarrassing for our company, and we apologize to our employees, customers and the community for the concern it has caused. This does not represent the high standards we strive to meet every day,” said Dave Pacella, GCMC president. “By agreeing to this plea, we accept responsibility as a company for what happened in the past, and more importantly it allows us to move forward to implement measures to ensure that we are never in this position again. We look forward to earning back the trust of all of our stakeholders.”

The company learned of the potential violations in September 2009 and immediately launched a third-party investigation and audit of the facility’s wastewater system. After the violations were identified, GCMC engaged two environmental consulting firms to design and implement changes to the plant’s wastewater system, and in December, voluntarily reported the violations to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) before learning of the criminal investigation.

“We moved quickly to correct the problems as soon as they were discovered,” Pacella said. “We will continue to work diligently every day to ensure our operations are safe and environmentally responsible.”

The plant has continued to operate on its regular schedule, 24 hours a day, seven days a week and will continue to do so in the wake of the agreement. Shipments from refinery customers are still being received and handled in compliance with applicable regulatory requirements, and shipments of product to downstream metal customers also are proceeding as scheduled. Moreover, the issues associated with the investigation and the plea agreement do not and have never subjected GCMC’s suppliers or customers to any associated liability.

The company began construction in April on a new state-of-the-art abatement system that will reduce sulfur dioxide emissions by at least 95 percent and will dramatically reduce emissions of particulate matter.

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