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Longview Fibre Co. Issued $68,000 Complaint

Release Date: 2/17/1998
Contact Information: Suzanne Powers
(206) 553-9475

February 17, 1998 - - - - - - - - 98-5

The Longview Fibre Company has been issued a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency complaint seeking civil penalties of $68,750 because, according to EPA, the company failed last spring to report promptly a release of hydrogen sulfide from its Longview, Washington, pulp and paper mill into the air over the neighboring community.

Announcement of the complaint was made today by Randall F. Smith, director of the Environmental Cleanup Office at EPA's regional headquarters in Seattle.

The release last April 7 prompted more than a half dozen complaints to local 911 operators, with some of the callers reporting burning eyes, sore throats, headaches, nausea and other symptoms that can be caused by exposure to the gas. No injuries or illness at the Longview Fibre mill were reported by company officials.

Smith explained that any time there's a release of a dangerous chemical like hydrogen sulfide over a prescribed amount, Longview Fibre is required by federal law to report the release immediately to the Cowlitz County Emergency Management Division, to the Washington State Military Department of Emergency Management and to the National Response Center.

According to EPA's calculations, approximately 336 pounds of hydrogen sulfide escaped into the air due to a mechanical failure of a fan on a furnace at the mill. Smith said that any release of hydrogen sulfide of more than 100 pounds requires Longview Fibre to make immediate reports to local, state and national emergency response officials.

The release began just before noon and continued until about 4:45 p.m., but was not reported until later that evening. The EPA complaint alleges that the Cowlitz County emergency officials were not notified until 6:55 p.m., their state counterparts were notified 10 minutes later, and the National Response Center a few minutes after that.

In addition, according to the complaint, Longview Fibre waited 23 days -- until April 30 -- to make a written report to state and local officials of the April 7 release. Because the federal Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act required the report to be submitted as "soon as practicable after a release occurs," EPA regards the late submittals as violations of the law.

The EPA complaint is an administrative action by EPA. Once it receives the complaint, Longview Fibre has 20 days to contest the penalties sought by the agency. The company can request a formal administrative hearing or an informal settlement conference.

The Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) was enacted after the 1984 chemical tragedy at a Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India, where a release of toxic gas killed 2,500 persons and injured thousand more.

In addition to the law's notification requirements, EPCRA calls for companies to take measures to help prevent disastrous consequences from releases of dangerous chemicals like hydrogen sulfide. Measures include annual reports of inventories of hazardous chemicals to designated emergency response agencies. With the information provided, the emergency agencies can make plans for responding to fires, explosions or other accidents.