Clean Air Act Claims to be Settled
Two manufacturing companies, in separate settlements, have agreed to pay civil penalties and take corrective measures to settle Clean Air Act violations resulting from explosions at two plants in 2002 and 2003 in Louisville, KY, and Pascagoula, MS, the Justice Department and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced in August (8/20/09).
D.D. Williamson and Co. and First Chemical Corp. have agreed in separate settlements to pay a combined total of $1,331,000 in civil penalties and to implement corrective measures to settle Clean Air Act claims resulting from a 2003 explosion at D.D. Williamson’s Kentucky plant and a 2002 explosion at First Chemical’s Mississippi plant (pictured above, left).
“T[hese] settlements are a forceful reminder to the regulated community that the failure to adhere to the Clean Air Act’s general duty obligations can lead to serious, even deadly, accidents and harm to the environment,” said John C. Cruden, acting assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Environmental and Natural Resources Division. “These settlements also demonstrate the Justice Department’s continuing efforts to ensure the public safety, and protection of the environment, by holding industry to the duty to maintain safe facilities.”
“This case demonstrates that a failure to fulfill obligations under the law can have serious consequences,” said Stan Meiburg, EPA Acting Regional Administrator in Atlanta. “EPA will aggressively continue to pursue those who fail to comply with the laws that protect our environment, and we will hold them accountable.”
The complaints filed against both companies allege that they failed to adhere to the Clean Air Act’s general duty of care provision. The general duty of care requirement obligates companies handling extremely hazardous substances to take steps to identify and reduce the risks associated with the use of these chemicals, including providing layers of protection on their equipment, such as pressure relief valves, automatic shut-off valves, or temperature alarms; ensuring the mechanical integrity of their equipment and piping; and properly training employees to monitor and address emergencies.
The complaint filed against D.D. Williamson, a caramel coloring manufacturer, alleges the company failed to comply with the Clean Air Act and its regulations. The 2003 incident at the plant resulted in the death of one employee and the release of an ammonia cloud in a nearby residential neighborhood. Specifically, the complaint alleges that D.D. Williamson failed to comply with the general duty of care imposed on users of extremely hazardous substances and also failed to comply with the chemical accident prevention provisions also known as the risk management program. The risk management program outlines specific safety management requirements for certain extremely hazardous substances, such as ammonia, that are used in amounts over specific limits.
D.D. Williamson, under the consent decree lodged with the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky, has agreed to pay $600,000 in civil penalties to be divided equally between the United States and the Louisville Metro Air Pollution Control District, which enforces the risk management program regulations. After the 2003 explosion, D.D. Williamson took steps to improve its Louisville plant by building a new facility that housed its manufacturing operations. Under the consent decree, D.D. Williamson is required to use an outside engineering consultant to complete a full hazard operability study of its manufacturing operations and implement the study’s recommendations, and to train its managers in process-hazard assessment techniques.
The complaint filed against First Chemical, which makes extremely hazardous mononitrotoluene (MNT), asserts the company similarly failed to meet the general duty requirement, leading to the 2002 explosion that resulted in the release of over 1,200 pounds of MNT into the air.
First Chemical, under the consent decree lodged with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, has agreed to pay the United States $731,000 in civil penalties, to complete an ongoing comprehensive hazard analysis of its MNT process and to implement all recommendations resulting from the analysis.