Posted by: Lawyer Sanders | July 22, 2010

Kentucky environmental attorney Sanders says there is a disconnect between McWane’s environmental violations and criminal convictions and empty prose on its website.

U.S. EPA, the Justice Department, and the states of Alabama and Iowa announced that McWane Inc., a national cast iron pipe manufacturer headquartered in Birmingham, Ala., has agreed to pay $4 million to resolve more than 400 violations of federal and state environmental laws. The settlement, filed in federal court today, covers 28 of McWane’s manufacturing facilities in 14 states and also requires the company to perform seven environmental projects valued at $9.1  

The $4 million civil penalty will be divided among the United States, Alabama and Iowa. The environmental projects McWane will perform will address stormwater pollution at numerous locations; reduce mercury emissions in Provo, Utah and Tyler, Texas; reduce volatile organic compounds (VOCs) emissions in Bedford, Ind. and Anniston, Ala.; and enhance air quality in Coshocton, Ohio. Additionally, McWane has already undertaken corrective measures to resolve the violations, at a cost of more than $7.6 million.  

The settlement resolves civil violations over the past decade of the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act, the Toxic Substances Control Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, as alleged by the United States, Alabama, and Iowa in the complaint.

As part of the settlement, the United States also required McWane to develop and implement a corporate-wide environmental management system (EMS) to promote environmental compliance, achieve pollution prevention and enhance overall environmental performance. The EMS was implemented prior to today’s filing and is now complete. The agreement now requires McWane to conduct an audit of the EMS to evaluate the adequacy of the system. In addition, McWane has modified its corporate-wide stormwater pollution prevention plan and will develop or upgrade facility-specific plans as part of the agreement.

At its Coshocton, Ohio iron foundry, McWane will operate a cupola furnace, which is a particulate emissions source, in accordance with its newly revised Clean Air Act Title V permit. The consent decree further establishes operating conditions and emission limits for the furnace, and is separately enforceable by EPA.

McWane manufactures cast iron pipes, valves, fittings, fire hydrants, propane and compressed air tanks and other similar products. As a result of its manufacturing processes, McWane emits pollutants, such as particulate matter, VOCs and mercury at various facilities.

  • Mercury is a known neurotoxin and exposure to it has been linked to adverse human health effects, particularly neurological disorders.
  • VOCs include a variety of chemicals, some of which may have short- and long-term adverse health effects.
  • Particulate matter can aggravate lung diseases, cause asthma attacks and may increase susceptibility to respiratory infections.

The environmental projects included in the settlement will result in reduction of more than four million pounds of pollutants annually. The corrective measures and supplemental environmental projects included in the McWane settlement will benefit communities in North Birmingham and Anniston with environmental justice concerns.

In the past, multiple McWane divisions and facilities have also been the subject of criminal investigations that have resulted in five federal prosecutions. As a result, the company has paid more than $23 million in criminal fines and penalties and spent approximately $5 million on environmental projects. Company executives have been sentenced to prison terms of up to 70 months and the company and certain executives have been placed on probation.  Sounds like someone needs a lengthy timeout at McWane to me to think long and hard about environmental compliance.

The proposed settlement agreement, lodged in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama, Birmingham Division, is subject to a 30-day public comment period and approval by the federal court.  More information on the settlement:

Despite all of the federal and state enforcement efforts, McWane’s website proclaims “All McWane facilities have implemented environmental practices that in many instances exceed U.S. standards, producing performance that is among the best of the industries in which we operate.  McWane strives to improve our performance every day, so that we are part of protecting our environment for generations to come.” 

Somehow, I just don’t believe them based upon the past civil and criminal convictions under state and federal environmental laws and regulations.  Action speaks louder than empty promises. What a crock of hooey!


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