Morton Agrees to $20 Million Penalty for Environmental Violations

Morton International Inc. will pay $20 million to resolve charges that it violated several environmental laws at its Moss Point, Miss., plant.

Morton International Inc. will resolve charges the chemical company violated several environmental laws at its Moss Point, Miss., facility under a civil settlement and criminal plea agreement.

Morton, a wholly owned subsidiary of Rohm and Haas Co., based in Philadelphia, has agreed to pay a $20 million penalty that will be divided equally between the United States and Mississippi.

The $20 million penalty is the largest-ever civil fine for environmental violations at one factory.

The settlement resolves claims that the company violated clean air, clean water and hazardous waste laws.

Investigators found that Morton was disposing of several kinds of hazardous waste at its on-site landfill without a specific permit. These materials included waste ash, sludge, toluene and other hazardous wastes.

The company is also alleged to have violated the federal law that requires companies to report to EPA each time they produce or release toxic chemicals in excess of an amount specified under the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act.

On several occasions between 1993 and 1995, Morton was found to have released methanol, methyl ethyl ketone and toluene into the air and soil.

Under the agreement, Morton will perform $16 million worth of projects to enhance the environment.

It also requires a third-party environmental audit of all 23 chemical facilities owned by Rohm and Haas in the United States.

Morton will complete a comprehensive assessment of the Moss Point facility to determine whether corrective measures are needed to address pollution.

In a separate action, Morton pleaded guilty to criminal violations of the Clean Water Act and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. Under this agreement, Morton will pay a $2 million criminal penalty.

"After investigators uncovered criminal behavior, Morton worked with us to achieve a far-reaching agreement that is certain to improve the natural environment both in this Mississippi community and everywhere there is a Morton chemical plant," said Lois Schiffer, assistant attorney general in charge of the environment at the Department of Justice.

Morton produces plasticizers, synthetic rubber, rocket polymers and other chemical adhesives at its facility in Jackson County, near the Escatawpa River.

In 1996, an EPA inspector conducting an evaluation of the facility discovered what appeared to be falsified reports submitted to the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality.

Factories with permits issued under the Clean Water Act must periodically file these monitoring reports with regulators, indicating the types and amounts of pollutants they are discharging.

The EPA Criminal Investigation Division in Jackson and the FBI investigated the falsification of Morton's discharge monitoring reports.

In February 2000, Morton's former environmental manager, Joe Magazzu, admitted he falsified the reports and pleaded guilty to a felony Clean Water Act charge.

The criminal investigation also led to the corporation's guilty plea.

"Besides falsifying data about its discharges of pollution, Morton also committed numerous civil violations of the clean air, clean water and hazardous waste regulations," said John Hankinson Jr., EPA's regional administrator for the Southeast. "Beyond the record penalty, we are requiring the company make sure it is complying with every environmental law at all of its facilities nationwide. This joint enforcement action will protect the public and the environment, in Moss Point and across the country."

by Virginia Sutcliffe

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