Settlement Calls for Chemical Manufacturer to Spend $125 Million on Cleanup, Pollution Controls

Equistar Chemicals LP, headquartered in Houston, Texas, will spend more than $125 million on pollution controls and cleanup to address a myriad of air, water and hazardous waste violations at seven petrochemical plants in Texas, Illinois, Iowa and Louisiana, the U.S. Justice Department (DOJ) and EPA announced on July 19.

The consent decree requires Equistar to invest in comprehensive control and operational measures expected to significantly reduce air, water and hazardous waste pollution from the seven manufacturing facilities. The plants which are subject to the settlement are Equistar's facilities in Morris, Ill.; Clinton, Iowa; Lake Charles, La. (currently inactive); Channelview, Texas; Chocolate Bayou, Texas; Corpus Christi, Texas; and La Porte, Texas.

The states of Iowa, Illinois and Louisiana have all joined the federal government in the settlement.

"Equistar will be the first in the petrochemical industry to adopt these stricter environmental measures, many of which will go beyond what the regulations would require," said Granta Nakayama, EPA's assistant administrator for Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. "Through these investments in environmental compliance, Equistar has a chance to turn its performance record around, and ultimately become a leader in the industry by running a cleaner, less polluting facility." Ronald J. Tenpas, acting assistant attorney general for the DOJ's Environment and Natural Resources Division, stated: "The settlement provides Equistar with the opportunity both to address past failures and to be pro-active in making company-wide changes to reduce the likelihood of future violations at these plants."

The case was initiated as a result of inspections conducted by EPA's National Enforcement Investigations Center (NEIC) at Equistar's Channelview, Texas, and Morris, Ill., facilities. During the inspections, EPA identified extensive Clean Air Act, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, and Clean Water Act violations.

The inspectors also found that Equistar had violated laws requiring the company to immediately report spills and releases of hazardous substances to federal and state emergency response centers. Once Equistar was notified of the violations, the company agreed to address potential compliance issues at all seven of its petrochemical plants.

Equistar already has initiated action to correct the regulatory violations identified and will continue to implement enhancements to its air, water and hazardous waste programs to address widespread deficiencies. Under the first 18 months of the settlement, Equistar is required to conduct a number of separate environmental audits of its operations to identify any additional problems, report its findings and proposed corrective measures back to EPA and state regulators, and fix the problems.

In addition, Equistar has agreed to monitor and fix leaks of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and hazardous air pollutants, such as benzene, from process units; to change out equipment that uses ozone-depleting substances; and to reduce flaring of VOCs. Equistar will also pay stipulated penalties under the consent decree for flaring based on the amount of pollution released to the atmosphere.

At its Channelview facility in Texas, Equistar will install a wastewater treatment system that will reduce harmful air emissions by at least 26 tons per year. In addition, the company will eliminate the improper land disposal of an estimated 150,000 tons of D018 benzene-contaminated hazardous waste per year.

In addition to the pollution controls, Equistar will pay a civil penalty of $2.5 million (to be divided among the federal government and participating states) and spend $6.56 million on federal and state supplemental environmental projects.

According to EPA, VOCs can contribute to respiratory disorders such as asthma and reduced lung capacity. They can also cause damage to ecosystems and reduce visibility.

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

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