Air Products LLC agreed to pay $1.485 million in civil penalties to resolve hazardous waste mismanagement violations at its Pasadena, Texas, chemical manufacturing facility, the Justice Department, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the state of Texas announced in August 2010. The settlement resolves Air Products’ Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) violations in transferring spent acid to the neighboring Agrifos Fertilizer Inc. manufacturing plant.
As part of the settlement, Air Products agreed to continue to manage the spent acid on-site and not ship it to Agrifos or any other facility not authorized to accept it. Air Products is currently in compliance with the RCRA requirements specified in the settlement. Air Products also agreed to notify EPA and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality in the event that the spent acid is either disposed of or sent off site.
Air Products, a manufacturer of chemicals used in the manufacture of polyurethane and hydrogen gas, operates its facility on a 105-acre tract of property adjacent to the Agrifos fertilizer plant. For many years, the company purchased sulfuric acid from Agrifos and returned a spent acid stream that Air Products had generated in its operations. In April 2006, inspectors from EPA observed that the return acid stream was a spent acid that was being used in part to make land-applied fertilizer. Agrifos is not authorized to accept hazardous waste from other facilities.
Air Products instituted modifications that will reduce the levels of contamination in the spent acid, and the construction of a $60 million regeneration plant that will stop the acid waste stream altogether. The regeneration plant construction was part of operational changes that were initiated prior to settlement negotiations and became effective as negotiations progressed.
This case is part of EPA’s National Enforcement Initiative for Mining and Mineral Processing. Although Air Products does not conduct mining or mineral processing, it sent the spent acid stream to a facility that does – the Agrifos fertilizer plant. Mining and mineral processing facilities generate more toxic and hazardous waste than any other industrial sector, based on EPA’s Toxic Release Inventory. If not properly managed, these facilities pose a high risk to human health and the environment. Since 2003, EPA has been investigating 20 phosphoric acid facilities in seven states.
In a national enforcement effort, EPA has focused on compliance in the phosphoric acid industry because of the high risk of releases of acidic wastewaters at these facilities, which can cause groundwater contamination and fish kills. A 2007 incident at the Agrifos phosphoric acid facility in Houston released 50 million gallons of acidic hazardous wastewater into the Houston Ship Channel. Another example is the 65 million gallon release of acidic wastewaters from the Mosaic Riverview facility into Tampa Bay, which led to a massive local fish kill.