DuPont Settles Environmental Lawsuit Over Sulfuric AcidRelease

The Justice Department and EPA reached a $1.5 million settlement\r\nwith DuPont related to a 1995 chemical release in eastern Kentucky.

The Justice Department and EPA reached a $1.5 million settlement with DuPont related to a 1995 chemical release in eastern Kentucky that led to the evacuation of several communities surrounding the plant.

The Deleware-based DuPont will pay an $850,000 penalty and spend about $650,000 to create a state-of-the-art emergency notification system for a 10-county region of Kentucky.

The agreement settles federal claims that DuPont violated federal environmental laws at its Wurtland, Ky., plant.

In August 1995, the DuPont facility released more than 23,800 gallons of a sulfuric acid solution into the air over a four-hour period, creating a chemical cloud.

Local authorities evacuated more than 1,000 residents from their homes, and several people underwent treatment for burns to their eyes, nasal passages and lungs.

DuPont was unable to stop the release or minimize it in any way, according to EPA.

The Justice Department, on behalf of EPA, sued the company in September 1997, alleging that DuPont failed to maintain a safe facility as required by the Clean Air Act.

The charge arose from DuPont''s use of cast iron piping in a tank used to store oleum (sulfuric trioxide dissolved in sulfuric acid) and the company''s failure to inspect the piping.

The oleum solution corroded the cast iron piping, which ultimately fractured on the night of Aug. 20, 1995, leading to the release of sulfuric acid into the air.

"This settlement with the largest chemical manufacturer in the world shows that no company may ignore its duty to follow industry standards and safely maintain its factories," said Lois J. Schiffer, assistant attorney general for the environment at the Justice Department. "We will hold companies accountable when they neglect this responsibility."

The Clean Air Act, Section 112 (r), provides that companies have a general duty of care to maintain a safe facility, to identify hazards that could lead to accidental releases, and minimize catastrophic releases.

This case is one of the first litigated under this provision, which was enacted by Congress following a massive chemical release from a Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India.

"This enforcement action reflects EPA''s commitment to ensuring compliance with the requirements from excessive air pollution," said John H. Hankinson Jr., regional administrator for EPA''s Atlanta region. "We will continue to vigorously use enforcement along with other cooperative approaches that benefit the environment."

DuPont also violated provisions of two federal laws that require a company to immediately notify emergency response officials as soon as the company learns about a release of hazardous substance exceeding a specified limit.

Under this settlement, DuPont has agreed to upgrade the emergency notification systems for the 10 counties surrounding the Wurtland plant.

The company will install a computer and software to create a "reverse 911" system that will allow for immediate telephonic notification of all residents in these counties when there is an emergency such as a chemical release or other public threat.

by Virginia Sutcliffe

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