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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Justice Department on August 26 announced that Air Products LLC has agreed to pay nearly $1.5 million in civil penalties to resolve hazardous waste mismanagement violations at its Pasadena, Texas, chemical manufacturing facility. The settlement resolves Air Products’ Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) violations in transferring spent acid to the neighboring Agrifos fertilizer manufacturing plant.
This case is related to EPA’s National Enforcement Initiative for Mining and Mineral Processing. Although Air Products does not conduct mining or mineral processing, it sent the spent acid stream to a facility that does – the Agrifos fertilizer plant. Mining and mineral processing facilities generate more toxic and hazardous waste than any other industrial sector, based on EPA’s Toxic Release Inventory. If not properly managed, wastes from these facilities may pose a high risk to human health and the environment. Since 2003, EPA has been investigating 20 phosphoric acid facilities in seven states.
“We are concerned that wastes from mineral processing and associated fertilizer production can pose a serious risk to our nation’s drinking water and the health of families,” said Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “And we’re just as concerned when contaminated wastes from other facilities find their way to these operations. EPA is working to minimize or eliminate risks to communities and the environment from illegal hazardous waste operations at phosphoric acid and other high risk facilities.”
“This settlement eliminates the disposal of spent-acid waste from the Air Products facility into the environment,” said Ignacia S. Moreno, Assistant Attorney General of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “By stopping this source of pollution, this settlement will reduce risks to human health and the environment.”
As part of the settlement, Air Products has agreed to continue to manage the spent acid on-site and not ship it to Agrifos or any other facility not authorized to accept it. Air Products is currently in compliance with the RCRA requirements specified in the settlement.
Air Products, a manufacturer of chemicals used in the manufacture of polyurethane and hydrogen gas, operates its facility on a 105-acre tract of property adjacent to the Agrifos fertilizer plant. For many years, the company purchased acid product from Agrifos and returned a spent acid stream that Air Products had used in its operations. In April 2006, inspectors from EPA and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) observed that the return acid stream was a spent acid that was being used to make land-applied fertilizer. Agrifos is not authorized to accept hazardous waste from other facilities.
Before the settlement was concluded, Air Products instituted modifications that will reduce the levels of contamination in the spent acid, and the construction of a $60 million regeneration plant that will stop the acid waste stream altogether.
As part of the settlement, Air Products has agreed to continue to manage the spent acid on site and not ship it to Agrifos or any other facility not authorized to accept it. Air Products has agreed to notify EPA and TCEQ in the event that the spent acid is either disposed of or sent off site.
In a national enforcement effort, EPA has focused on compliance in the phosphoric acid industry because of the high risk of releases of acidic wastewaters at these facilities, which can cause groundwater contamination and fish kills. A 2007 incident at the Agrifos phosphoric acid facility in Houston released 50 million gallons of acidic hazardous wastewater into the Houston Ship Channel. Another example is the 65 million gallon release of acidic wastewaters from the Mosaic Riverview facility into Tampa Bay in 2004, which led to a massive local fish kill.
The proposed settlement agreement, lodged in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, is subject to a 30-day public comment period and approval by the federal court.
More information on the settlement: www.epa.gov/compliance/resources/cases/civil/rcra/airproducts.html