Acid Manufacturer to Spend $50 Million on Measures to Reduce Air Pollution
Rhodia Inc., an acid manufacturer, will pay a $2 million penalty and spend approximately $50 million on air pollution controls at production plants in four states, federal officials announced on April 26.
The penalty and the air pollution controls are in the terms of a settlement to resolve allegations that the company violated the Clean Air Act. The company will meet new, lower emission limits for sulfur dioxide at eight sulfuric acid production units: two in Houston, Texas and one in Baytown, Texas; two in Baton Rouge, La.; one each in Martinez, Calif., and Dominguez, Calif.; and one in Hammond, Ind. To meet these limits, the company will install state-of-the-art pollution control equipment at several plants and change operating procedures at several others. The states of Indiana and Louisiana, California's Bay Area Air Quality Management District and the city of Hammond, Ind., joined the federal government in the agreement and will receive shares of the civil penalty.
Rhodia is the first sulfuric acid manufacturer in the nation to agree to a company-wide "global" compliance agreement. As a result of these actions, actual emissions at some of the Rhodia plants will decrease by more than 90 percent. The U.S. Justice Department (DOJ) and EPA expect to reach similar agreements with other sulfuric acid manufacturers.
"This agreement is helping to improve the environment and at the same time creating a level playing field in the industry," said Matthew J. McKeown, acting assistant attorney general for DOJ's Environmental and Natural Resources Division. "The settlement shows the high level of cooperation possible among the federal government, our local and state partners and industry, when all are committed to compliance and meaningful improvement of the environment."
The settlement will reduce harmful air pollutants by 19,000 tons per year, according to Grant Nakayama, EPA assistant administrator for the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. "Sulfur dioxide can impair breathing, aggravate respiratory diseases such as bronchitis, and cause acid rain. This will improve air quality for millions of people around the nation," Nakayama said.
Rhodia's plants produce acid by burning sulfur-containing compounds, creating sulfur dioxide. The sulfur dioxide is then converted to sulfur trioxide, which combines with water to form sulfuric acid. Air pollution is created when "unconverted" sulfur dioxide and sulfuric acid mist is released to the atmosphere. Children, the elderly and people with heart and lung conditions are the most sensitive to sulfur dioxide. Information on health impacts related to sulfur dioxide can be found at http://www.epa.gov/oar/urbanair/so2/index.html.
The government's complaint alleges that Rhodia made modifications to its plants, which increased emissions of sulfur dioxide, without first obtaining pre-construction permits and installing required pollution control equipment. EPA requires major sources of air pollution to obtain such permits before making changes that would result in a significant emissions increase of any pollutant. The settlement will ensure that the proper pollution equipment will be installed to reduce future emission levels, officials said. EPA is focusing on improving compliance among industries that have the potential to cause significant amounts of air pollution, including the cement manufacturing, glass manufacturing, and acid production industries.
The consent decree, lodged in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, is subject to a 30-day public comment period and approval by the federal court. A copy of the consent decree is available on DOJ's Web site at http://www.usdoj.gov/enrd/Consent_Decrees.html. The company is required to pay the penalty within 30 days after the court approves the settlement and to begin meeting stricter emission limits at some of the plants by July 1.
This article originally appeared in the 04/01/2007 issue of Environmental Protection.