The Department of Justice, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ) announced a settlement with Dow Chemical Company and two subsidiaries, Performance Materials NA Inc. and Union Carbide Corporation, that will eliminate thousands of tons of air pollution from four of Dow’s petrochemical manufacturing facilities in Texas and Louisiana.
The settlement resolves allegations that Dow and its subsidiaries violated the Clean Air Act by failing to properly operate and monitor industrial flares at their petrochemical facilities, which resulted in excess emissions of harmful air pollution.
The complaint, filed Tuesday along with the settlement, alleges that Dow and its subsidiaries “oversteamed” their flares and failed to comply with other key operating parameters that ensure the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and hazardous air pollutants contained in the gases routed to the flares are effectively combusted.
The companies will spend approximately $294 million to install and operate air pollution control and monitoring technology to reduce flaring and the resulting harmful air pollution from 26 industrial flares at the companies’ facilities in: Hahnville, Louisiana; Plaquemine, Louisiana; Freeport, Texas; and Orange, Texas.
Once fully implemented, the pollution controls required by the settlement are estimated to reduce harmful air emissions of VOCs by more than 5,600 tons per year. The settlement is also expected to reduce toxic air pollutants, including benzene, by nearly 500 tons per year.
“This settlement will improve air quality in Texas and Louisiana by eliminating thousands of tons of harmful air pollution each year,” said Jonathan D. Brightbill, Acting Assistant Attorney General of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “The agreement, which requires Dow to reduce emissions from its facilities in Texas and Louisiana, demonstrates the Justice Department’s and EPA’s continuing efforts, together with our state partners, to reduce harmful air pollution from unnecessary and improper flaring in order to protect the American public by bringing sources of air pollution into compliance with the Clean Air Act.”
“This settlement means cleaner air for communities across Texas and Louisiana and reinforces EPA’s commitment to enforce the law and hold those who violate it accountable,” said Susan Bodine, Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “As this agreement shows, EPA is dedicated to partnering with states to address critical environmental issues and improve compliance in the regulated community to prevent future violations of the law.”
“The Clean Air Act provides a blueprint for industry to operate in a safe and controlled fashion,” said Dr. Chuck Carr Brown, LDEQ Secretary. “LDEQ will continue to work with our federal partners, EPA and the Justice Department, to finalize agreements that settle both long- and short-term compliance issues. Every citizen of Louisiana will benefit from the Beneficial Environmental Project portion of the settlement.”
The pollutants addressed by the settlement can cause significant harm to public health. VOCs are a key component in the formation of smog or ground-level ozone, a pollutant that irritates the lungs, exacerbates diseases such as asthma, and can increase susceptibility to respiratory illnesses, such as pneumonia and bronchitis. Chronic exposure to benzene, which EPA classifies as a carcinogen, can cause numerous health impacts, including leukemia and adverse reproductive effects in women.
Flares are devices used to combust waste gases that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere during certain industrial operations. Well-operated flares should have high “combustions efficiency,” meaning they combust nearly all harmful waste gas constituents, like VOCs and hazardous air pollutants, and turn them into water and carbon dioxide. The agreement is designed to improve Dow’s flaring practices. First, it requires Dow to minimize the amount of waste gas that is sent to the flares, which reduces the amount of flaring. Second, Dow must improve the combustion efficiency of its flares when flaring is necessary.
In order to minimize the waste gas sent to the flares at each facility, Dow will operate flare gas recovery systems that recover and “recycle” the gases instead of sending them to be combusted in a flare. The flare gas recovery systems will allow Dow to reuse these gases as a fuel at its facilities or a product for sale. Dow will also create waste minimization plans for each facility to further reduce flaring. For flaring that must occur, the agreement requires that Dow install and operate instruments and monitoring systems to ensure that the gases sent to its flares are efficiently combusted. Dow will also perform air quality monitoring that is designed to detect the presence of benzene at the fence lines of the four covered plants and pay a civil penalty of $3 million.
The LDEQ will receive $675,000 of the $3 million total civil penalty, and Dow will perform three state-authorized “beneficial environmental projects” in Louisiana that were negotiated by Louisiana.
More information about this settlement can be found at https://www.epa.gov/enforcement/dow-chemical-company-performance-materials-na-inc-and-union-carbide-corporation-clean.
The consent decree, lodged in the Eastern District Court of Louisiana, is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval. The consent decree will be available for viewing at https://www.justice.gov/enrd/consent-decrees.