The companies also have agreed to pay a $2.585 million civil penalty to resolve environmental violations under the Clean Air Act, RCRA, and the Clean Water Act, and to perform $4.7 million worth of supplemental environmental projects.
Shintech and K-Bin have agreed to reduce emissions of ozone-depleting refrigerants by replacing six refrigeration units with units that use refrigerants that do not harm the atmosphere’s protective stratospheric ozone layer. In addition, the two companies have agreed to third-party audits of their handling of ozone-depleting refrigerants, increased training, and other steps to ensure compliance with EPA regulations under the Clean Air Act.
Under RCRA, the federal hazardous waste law, Shintech will close a lagoon and a drying bed that were not designed to handle hazardous waste, implement a series of audits and reviews of its hazardous-waste handling practices, and add a treatment tank to its waste-water treatment system. The overall cost of the steps the companies will take to comply with the Clean Air Act and RCRA is estimated to be approximately $4.8 million. Shintech has already addressed its Clean Water Act violations by completing its permit-renewal process.
Shintech also has agreed to perform three environmental projects as part of the settlement. Shintech will add at least 300 acres of forest and wetlands to Austin's Woods preserve (also called the Colombia Bottomlands area) managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Shintech will create a recycling program in the city of Houston that will pick up and recycle, at no cost to residents, residential appliances containing ozone-depleting refrigerants. Finally, Shintech will retrofit part of its manufacturing process to reduce emissions of polyvinyl chloride by 10,000 pounds per year. Altogether, the three projects are estimated to cost at least $4.7 million.
The settlement resolves allegations made in a complaint filed simultaneously with the settlement by the Justice Department on behalf of the EPA.
“This enforcement action will produce real environmental benefits: lower emissions of ozone-depleting chemicals, lower emissions of vinyl chloride, and much better procedures for the handling of hazardous waste,” said Ronald J. Tenpas, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “We are pleased that Shintech was willing to cooperate with us and address these environmental issues.”
“It is imperative that business and industry do their part to minimize the possible harm their operations may cause to our environment,” said EPA Regional Administrator Richard E. Greene. “This agreement will ensure corrective action is taken and provide added benefits to the environment through supplemental projects.”
The Clean Air Act regulates emission of ozone-depleting chemicals such as chlorofluorocarbons, hydrochlorofluorocarbons, and other chemicals that leak from refrigeration units. In contrast to harmful ground-level ozone, the layer of ozone in the stratosphere (six to 30 miles above the earth’s surface) filters out ultraviolet radiation, which damages crops, causes cataracts, and causes some types of human skin cancer. The complaint alleges that Shintech and K-Bin failed to comply with provisions of the Clean Air Act that require the prompt detection and repair of refrigeration units that leak ozone-depleting chemicals.
The appliance-recycling project is designed to reduce emissions of ozone-depleting chemicals from residential appliances in Houston, which presently does not have a program to deal with old and abandoned appliances containing ozone-depleting chemicals. RCRA imposes strict requirements that, among other things, are designed to prevent the disposal of hazardous wastes in earthen structures. The complaint alleges that Shintech violated RCRA by placing lab waste into two structures with earthen bottoms.
The consent decree, lodged in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, Houston Division, is subject to a 30-day public comment period and approval by the federal court.