EPA Reaches Air Toxics Settlement with Evonik
Earlier this week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced a settlement with specialty chemicals company Evonik regarding alleged violations at a facility in Reserve, St. John the Baptist Parish, Louisiana.
According to the release, the settlement is anticipated to reduce emissions of hazardous air pollutants by 5.6 tons per year, including 2.16 tons of ethylene oxide.
“Even though Evonik is technically classified as a minor source of emissions, the facility’s impact on people living nearby can be significant,” said Regional Administrator Dr. Earthea Nance. “Through an innovative enforcement approach, EPA’s team was able to secure a meaningful reduction of air toxics for the people of St. John the Baptist.”
About the Settlement
The EPA reports that the alleged violations were found as a result of a special monitoring and enforcement effort by officials from EPA and the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ) following EPA Administrator Michael Regan’s visit to the area during his Journey to Justice tour.
The inspections took place in April 2022 as part of the Pollution Accountability Team, an air monitoring project developed by EPA enforcement teams based on concerns of area residents. The initiative combined high-tech air pollution monitoring and real-time physical inspections.
The agency’s ASPECT airplane reportedly collected emissions data from facilities while the EPA’s Geospatial Monitoring of Air Pollution (GMAP) vehicle monitored pollution levels at facility fencelines and adjacent neighborhoods.
It's one step in the effort to reduce pollutants in a part of Louisiana nicknamed "Cancer Alley."https://t.co/2TUOccUYwS— WBRZ News (@WBRZ) April 24, 2023
Afterwards, teams of inspectors from the EPA and LDEQ were available to follow up with on-the-spot, unannounced inspections at specific facilities if monitoring results indicated elevated emissions.
As part of the settlement, Evonik has already replaced their scrubber with a more efficient flare, which will reportedly destroy 98% of emissions routed to it. The company will also install a thermal oxidizer and be required to operate it with a minimum destruction efficiency of 99.9% as demonstrated by a required initial performance test.
Additionally, Evonik will implement an enhanced leak detection and repair program, which will help minimize fugitive emissions of ethylene oxide and other volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
Ethylene oxide is a hazardous organic pollutant and VOC that can cause cancer in humans. VOCs can contribute to the formation of ozone, or smog, which can result in health problems such as asthma, lung infections, bronchitis and cancer.
Evonik also reportedly agreed to perform a Supplemental Environmental Project (SEP) to further reduce facility-wide emissions. The company will spend a minimum of $335,000 to design, install and operate a Vapor Recovery System to capture VOCs, which are currently permitted for release to the atmosphere while trucks load and unload.
These captured VOCs will then be routed to the new thermal oxidizer/flare system and will be operational no later than Dec. 31, 2026. This is expected to reduce VOC emissions by an additional 2.6 tons per year.
The EPA adds that Evonik must pay a civil penalty of $75,000 to resolve the alleged violations at the facility.
Recent Similar Actions
Last month, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a motion for preliminary injunction requiring LaPlace, Louisiana-based Denka Performance Elastomer, LLC to significantly reduce chloroprene emissions immediately.
The action arrives after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s agreement at the end of last year, citing Denka for failing to make an appropriate hazardous waste determination for “Poly Kettle Strainer Waste.” The waste, known as chloroprene waste, is generated from the manufacturing of neoprene, which is used to create products such as wetsuits, gaskets, hoses and adhesives.
At the end of December, the EPA announced that it had entered a consent agreement and issued Denka a final order to address certain waste management practices at the company’s facility.
Filed on behalf of the EPA, the recent motion for preliminary injunction under the Clean Air Act (CAA) requests that the court order Denka to require significant pollution controls to reduce chloroprene emissions. The Clean Air Act section 303 imminent and substantial endangerment lawsuit is currently pending in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana.
According to an assessment conducted by the EPA, approximately 20% of the total population living within two-and-a-half miles of Denka are children under the age of 18, and between 800 and 1,000 are children under the age of five. Children under the age of 16 are particularly vulnerable to mutagenic carcinogens like chloroprene.
Denka’s chloroprene’s emissions reportedly reach more than 300 young children who attend the 5th Ward Elementary School, located within approximately 450 feet of Denka’s facility. Additionally, 1,200 children who attend East St. John High School, located about a mile-and-a-half north of Denka, are also exposed to the facility’s chloroprene emissions.
According to reports, Denka called the EPA's action “unlawful” and said that monitoring at the plant's fenceline showed emissions at “historic lows.” Additionally, Denka claims that the science behind chloroprene’s designation as a likely carcinogen is badly flawed and outdated.
The filing reportedly requires Denka to “enclose several known chloroprene sources so that their now-diffuse, or simply uncontrolled, emissions can be captured and then routed to effective air pollution control equipment,” as well as address waste-handling and maintenance practices.