DuPont to Spend $66 Million on Measures to Reduce Air Pollution

E.I. Du Pont de Nemours & Co. reached a settlement with federal officials that is expected to reduce more than 13,000 tons of harmful emissions annually from four sulfuric acid production plants in Louisiana, Virginia, Ohio and Kentucky.

Du Pont will spend at least $66 million on air pollution controls at the plants and pay a civil penalty of $4.125 million under the Clean Air Act settlement. The states of Louisiana, Virginia and Ohio joined the federal government in the July 20 agreement and will receive shares of the civil penalty.

"This is another example of EPA's commitment to ensuring that all people breathe healthier, cleaner air," said EPA Region 6 Administrator Richard E. Greene. "When companies that are major contributors to air pollution take the initiative to install the best emissions control equipment, it benefits everyone. If they don't, we must take action to protect the environmental health of our communities."

The company will meet new, lower emission limits for sulfur dioxide at its sulfuric acid production units in Darrow, La.; Richmond, Va.; North Bend, Ohio; and Wurtland, Ky. At the Burnside plant in Darrow, the largest of the four, Du Pont will install state-of-the-art "dual absorption" pollution control equipment by Sept. 1, 2009, at an estimated cost of at least $66 million. At the other three plants, DuPont has the option of installing appropriate control equipment or ceasing operations to meet the new lower emission limits. The additional cost of installing control technologies at all of the remaining three plants, if Du Pont does so, is estimated to be at least $87 million. All four plants will meet their lower emission limits by March 1, 2012.

Du Pont is the second sulfuric acid manufacturer in the nation to agree to a company-wide global compliance agreement as part of an initiative under which the U.S. Justice Department (DOJ) and EPA expect to reach similar agreements with other sulfuric acid manufacturers. The first global sulfuric acid manufacturing compliance agreement was announced earlier this year with Rhodia Inc. As a result of the two settlements, this initiative has now garnered pollution control at 12 plants, which will eliminate a combined total of 32,000 tons of sulfur dioxide emissions per year. When fully implemented, the settlement with Du Pont will reduce sulfur dioxide emissions from the four plants by approximately 90 percent.

"This agreement demonstrates our commitment to a level playing field and compliance with the law in the sulfuric acid industry," said Ronald J. Tenpas, acting assistant attorney general for DOJ's Environmental and Natural Resources Division. "This 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."

Du Pont's plants produce acid by burning sulfur, creating sulfur dioxide. The sulfur dioxide is then converted to sulfur trioxide, which combines with water to form sulfuric acid. Air pollution is emitted when unconverted sulfur dioxide and sulfuric acid mist are released to the atmosphere. Children, the elderly, and people with heart and lung conditions are the most sensitive to sulfur dioxide.

The government's complaint, filed with the consent decree, alleges that Du Pont made modifications to its plants which increased emissions of sulfur dioxide without first obtaining pre-construction permits and installing required pollution control equipment. The Clean Air Act 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 July 20 settlement will ensure that future emissions will be reduced to a legally acceptable level.

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 Southern District of Ohio, 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: Du Pont is required to pay the penalty within 30 days of the court's approval of the settlement..

This article originally appeared in the 07/01/2007 issue of Environmental Protection.