EPA Issues Endangerment Order to Agrifos Fertilizer, ExxonMobil

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has issued an administrative order on consent to Agrifos Fertilizer, Inc. and ExxonMobil Oil Corp. to address long-term wastewater management and prevent future imminent and substantial endangerment to human health and the environment, the agency said on March 27.

The Agrifos facility has been in operation since the mid-1960s and was originally constructed and operated by Mobil Corp. Agrifos operates a mineral processing facility that extracts phosphorus from mineral ores for use in commercial fertilizer. The byproduct wastes include phosphogypsum, which is accumulated in large piles of gypsum stacks, and process wastewater. Surrounding each gypsum stack is a moat storing process wastewater that has leached through the gypsum, which is normally treated within the plant.

In August 2007, the Pasadena, Texas, facility accumulated excessive amounts of acidic wastewater that threatened catastrophic failure of the impoundments. An abnormal amount of rainfall caused an excess of wastewater at the South Stack resulting in the failure of a portion of the retaining wall that released wastewater into a county drainage ditch, Cotton Patch Bayou, and then into the Houston Ship Channel. The overflow released approximately 54 million gallons of wastewater between Aug. 16 and Sept. 7, 2007, and at least one fish kill was reported in the bayou.
"This order is a reminder to those who own and operate these facilities of their responsibility to protect human health and the environment," said EPA Region 6 Administrator Richard E. Greene.

The EPA order requires Agrifos and ExxonMobil to promptly take steps to complete side slope closure of the gypsum stacks over the next two years and develop a corrective action plan to address soil and groundwater contamination. Agrifos and ExxonMobil will also build a new wastewater treatment plant to treat wastewater and dispose of acidic wastewater using the deep injection well at the facility. The order also requires Agrifos and ExxonMobil to demonstrate, through modeling, a five-year plan for managing water balance during closure activities at the site.