Koppers Industries Agrees to $2.9 Million Fine for Environmental Violations

Jan. 23, 2003
Koppers Industries Inc. agreed to pay the United States $2.9 million to resolve allegations of numerous violations of several environmental regulations at many of the company's U.S. facilities, and agreed to institute an environmental management system (EMS).

The Pittsburgh-based company engages in coke making (a carbon-rich fuel used as a heat source to melt iron ore), coal tar production and wood preserving at facilities throughout the United States.

As a result of an investigation of Koppers facilities initiated in 1996, EPA found thousands of violations, mostly under the Clean Water Act (CWA). EPA investigations revealed that Koppers failed to submit monitoring data required by the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) and pretreatment permits issued under the CWA. Without proper monitoring and reporting, regulatory agencies cannot adequately assess the potential for environmental harm that may be caused by a discharger of pollutants.

The company also violated discharge limits in its NPDES permits. These permit violations by Koppers throughout the company resulted in the discharge of pollutants above the permitted amounts. Some of these pollutants are designated as hazardous chemicals and are toxic in fresh water in small quantities. The discharge of this industrial wastewater over the permit limits may endanger aquatic life and the environment.

Tom Sansonetti, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division, noted, "Compliance with these laws is absolutely necessary to protect human health and the environment. Koppers' commitment to carry out an environmental management system is particularly significant, as it increases the likelihood that similar violations will not recur."

John Peter Suarez, EPA's assistant administrator for Enforcement and Compliance Assurance said the settlement resolves Koppers' past illegal practices and commits the company to a comprehensive environmental management program that will protect the public and the environment. "EPA will take actions necessary to enforce our environmental laws against companies that put the public at risk by not complying with the law," he added.

Under the Clean Air Act (CAA), EPA found multiple violations of National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants at the company's Woodward, Ala., coke plant, including violations of the standards that control benzene emissions from coke by-product recovery plants. In particular, the plant failed to operate a gas blanketing system, which is used to control benzene emissions from its storage tanks, between October 1996 and May 1997. The plant also failed to submit semi-annual reports from August 1994 to September 1997 for its benzene emissions control system.

In addition, the Woodward plant violated the standards for fugitive emission sources, which require a facility to identify, tag and monitor monthly potential fugitive emissions from equipment leaks. The plant also violated the regulation applicable to coke oven batteries. This regulation requires a facility to submit semiannual compliance reports. Koppers submitted a semiannual report in August of 1995, but failed to submit additional reports before July 1997. The United States also alleged that in March 1997, Koppers violated the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) regulation that requires a facility to store used oil in containers and tanks that are in good condition with no severe rusting, apparent structural defects or deterioration. In March 1997, Koppers violated the regulation by collecting used oil in an unmarked, severely crushed tank.

As a result of the consent decree entered into by Koppers and the United States, Koppers will:

  • Implement an EPA-approved EMS that helps the company identify and monitor its compliance with federal and state environmental laws. Will hire qualified third-parties to audit each facility's performance under the EMS and will provide periodic reports on these audits to EPA for the first three years after entry.
  • Use independent auditors to evaluate the company's compliance with environmental laws. Should the compliance audits identify additional violations, Koppers will be required to install the necessary treatment upgrades, and operational and maintenance improvements to meet all environmental permit requirements and water quality standards. Compliance audits also will address storm water, and may require Koppers to implement storm water pollution prevention plans. These efforts will reduce the instances of unreported and contaminated storm water discharges to the environment.
  • Correct all violations identified in an audit report within 60 days. EPA may assess civil penalties for violations identified in an audit report using its audit policy.

In August 2002, Koppers was ordered to pay a fine of $2.1 million after pleading guilty to two felony violations of the CWA and one felony violation of the CAA. The convictions resulted from releases of hazardous air and water pollutants, which exceeded permitted limits at the company's Woodward plant. In addition, Koppers was ordered to pay restitution of $900,000 to the Black Warrior-Cahaba Rivers Land Trust and was placed on probation for three years.

About the Author

Sandy Smith

Sandy Smith is the former content director of EHS Today, and is currently the EHSQ content & community lead at Intelex Technologies Inc. She has written about occupational safety and health and environmental issues since 1990.

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