(Beyond Pesticides, August 5, 2011) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced last week that Dow Chemical Company (Dow) has agreed to pay a $2.5 million civil penalty to settle violations of the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) at its chemical manufacturing and research complex in Midland, Michigan.
In addition to paying a penalty, Dow will implement a comprehensive program to reduce emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and hazardous air pollutants (HAPs) from leaking equipment, such as valves and pumps. These emissions —known as fugitive emissions because they are not discharged from a stack, but rather leak directly from equipment— are generally controlled through work practices, such as monitoring for and repairing leaks. The settlement requires Dow to implement enhanced work practices, including more frequent leak monitoring, better repair practices, and innovative new work practices designed to prevent leaks. In addition, the enhanced program requires Dow to replace valves with new “low emissions” valves or valve packing material, designed to significantly reduce the likelihood of future leaks of VOCs and HAPs.
Past waste disposal practices, fugitive emissions, and incineration at the Midland plant have resulted in on- and off-site contamination of nearby waterways. Dow’s manufacturing of chlorine-based products and other chemicals results in dioxins, as well as furans, chlorobenzenes and heavy metals, as byproducts.
According to the 24-count complaint, filed simultaneously with the settlement today in the Eastern District of Michigan, Dow allegedly violated Clean Air Act requirements for monitoring and repairing leaking equipment, for demonstrating initial and continuous compliance with regulations applicable to chemical, pharmaceutical and pesticide plants, and for failing to comply with reporting and recordkeeping requirements. The complaint also asserts that Dow violated the Clean Water Act’s prohibition against discharging pollutants without a permit and violated the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act’s requirements for hazardous waste generators.
The chemical giant contends the pollution hasn’t harmed people or wildlife but has spent over $40 million on studies, sediment sampling and other preliminary work. In 2007, it removed tainted soil from four highly toxic “hot spots,” one with the highest dioxin levels ever recorded.
Dioxins are a family of chemicals that have been linked to cancer, weakened immune systems and reproductive problems. The teratogenic (i.e. ability to cause developmental malformations) and mutagenic compounds are not only a byproduct of manufacturing processes but are contained in one of Dow’s most used herbicides, 2,4-D. 2,4-D is commonly found in weed and feed lawn products and is used widely for vegetation control in agriculture as well. Advocates have cited Dow as a leader in obscuring the science and weakening the regulation of these and other deadly chemicals.
Dow’s Midland facility is a 1,900-acre chemical manufacturing plant. In 2007, EPA and Dow negotiated the terms of the cleanup of three industrial sites Tittabawassee and Saginaw Rivers downstream of its Midland facility. EPA then ordered more dredging, which showed dioxin levels along a Saginaw park to be 1.6 million parts per trillion, 20 times higher than any other levels detected in any U.S. waterway, according to the Chicago Tribune. The high levels of dioxin and PCBs in the Tittabawassee and Saginaw rivers have made fish there unsafe to consume. Michigan state guidelines require corrective action on contamination above a thousand parts per trillion. Advisories have previously been issued against eating carp, catfish, and white bass – fish that feed near the riverbed where contaminants are buried.
In January, 2008, a previous round of talks between EPA and Dow ended unsuccessfully when EPA determined that Dow’s cleanup offers were not comprehensive enough.
Source: EPA press release