Environment News Service (ENS)

Air, Water, Hazwaste Violations Cost Equistar $125 Million

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Source: Environment News Service (ENS)

HOUSTON, Texas, July 25, 2007 (ENS) - Equistar Chemicals of Houston, Texas has agreed to settle federal environmental violations by spending more than $125 million on pollution controls and cleanup. The company must address a host of air, water and hazardous waste violations at seven of its petrochemical plants in Texas, Illinois, Iowa and Louisiana.

The Justice Department and the Environmental Protection Agency said Thursday that their settlement requires the petrochemical company to do more than regulations require.

'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,' Nakayama said.

The case was brought as a result of inspections conducted by the EPA's National Enforcement Investigations Center at Equistar's Channelview, Texas, and Morris, Illinois facilities.

EPA inspectors identified extensive violations of the Clean Air Act, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, and Clean Water Act.

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, the federal agencies said. Equistar has begun to correct the violations.

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 the 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 equipment that uses ozone-depleting substances; and to reduce flaring of VOCs.

Equistar will be penalized for flaring based on the amount of pollution released to the atmosphere.

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

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. The company must eliminate the improper land disposal of an estimated 150,000 tons of benzene-contaminated hazardous waste per year.

Equistar also 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.

The projects include a system to capture hazardous air emissions from process vents at the Channelview facility, and state projects that include the purchase of emergency response equipment and newer, cleaner school buses; funding for the Mississippi River Tourism Center; and cleanup of hazardous waste left by hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

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