The sulfuric acid plant, owned by Lucite and operated by DuPont, is located on a 100-acre chemical manufacturing complex along the Kanawha River. The companies will pay $1 million to the United States and $1 million to the state of West Virginia. In addition, the companies chose to shut down the sulfuric-acid manufacturing unit of a larger chemical facility at the site; the settlement confirms this agreement. Under the settlement, the unit is scheduled to shut down by April 1, 2010.
"The actions taken as part of this settlement will reduce emissions of air pollutants by more than 1,000 tons each year," said Catherine McCabe, acting assistant administrator for the EPA's Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. "Sulfur dioxide emissions can be harmful to children, the elderly and people with heart and lung conditions."
In a joint complaint, filed concurrently with the consent decree, the United States and West Virginia allege that the companies made modifications to their plant in 1996 without first obtaining pre-construction permits and installing required pollution control equipment. The Clean Air Act requires major sources of air pollution to obtain such permits before making changes that would result in a significant emissions increase of any pollutant.
DuPont: Changes Did Not Increase Emissions
According to DuPont spokesperson Nate Pepper, the SAR unit at Belle began operating prior to the Clean Air Act New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) and New Source Review (NSR) programs. EPA alleges that modifications to the SAR unit triggered the NSPS and NSR requirements.
"DuPont and Lucite conducted routine maintenance, repair and replacement projects at the SAR unit for safety, efficiency and reliability, but none of the projects resulted in an increase in emissions," Pepper said in a statement sent to EHS Today. "Therefore, DuPont disagrees with EPA's interpretations of the NSPS and NSR requirements, which have been the subject of widespread litigation and varied interpretation."
Pepper pointed out that "DuPont has chosen to work cooperatively with EPA to resolve the disagreement." He also added that Lucite announced its intent to cease operations of the SAR unit. DuPont does not anticipate any job losses as a result of this announced shutdown.
"This settlement is part of the U.S. government's dedicated effort to bring all sulfuric acid manufacturers into compliance with the Clean Air Act," said John C. Cruden, acting assistant attorney general in charge of the Justice Department's Environmental and Natural Resources Division.
According to EPA, the Belle sulfuric acid plant burns sulfuric acid sludge, which creates sulfur dioxide (SO2). Most of the SO2 is converted to sulfuric acid and recovered, but a portion of the chemical is emitted to the atmosphere. In addition to SO2, the plant also emits sulfuric acid mist, nitrogen dioxide and carbon monoxide.
SO2 can have serious health effects on children, the elderly, and people with heart and lung conditions. It also contributes to the formation of acid rain, which can affect ponds, lakes and streams. Acid rain has resulted in the acidification of waters in ponds, lakes, and streams, leading to the disappearance of animal and plant life. Acid rain is also believed to leach nutrients from sensitive soils and damage forests.
Sulfuric acid is widely used for ore processing, fertilizer manufacturing, oil refining, wastewater processing and chemical synthesis.
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