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Roche Vitamins to Pay More than $200,000 for Air Violations

Release Date: 07/10/2002
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(#02071) NEW YORK – Roche Vitamins has agreed to pay nearly $220,000 for past violations of the Clean Air Act at its manufacturing plant in Belvidere, New Jersey. The company failed to notify EPA that it had constructed and started up a new cogeneration unit, as required under federal air standards. Roche also violated requirements designed to reduce the risk of release of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) into the environment.

“This settlement turns a possible threat to people’s health and the environment into a benefit,” said Jane M. Kenny, EPA Regional Administrator. “Faced with violations, Roche corrected the problems, overhauled its environmental management system and invested in a range of environmental projects aimed at improving the health of the community.”

An April 1999 EPA inspection revealed that the Roche facility’s cogeneration unit was operating in violation of Clean Air Act requirements. The inspection also revealed violations of stratospheric ozone protection regulations.

In June of 1998, Roche installed a new cogeneration unit to supply heat and electricity to its entire facility and failed to notify EPA of the unit’s construction and start up, which is required for new cogeneration units. Although the cogeneration unit was equipped with a continuous emission monitor for nitrogen oxides (NOx), Roche was not following a specific requirement to monitor the nitrogen content of the fuel being burned on a daily basis. Gathering the information required by these regulations is critical to EPA and the public because it enables us to quantify the releases of NOx. When NOx reacts with volatile organic compounds it contributes to ozone/smog formation, which makes the air unhealthy to breathe. Release of NOx also contributes to acid deposition and has other harmful environmental and health impacts.

The CFC provisions of the Clean Air Act are designed to prevent releases of CFC- containing refrigerant compounds, which cause depletion of the stratospheric ozone layer. The ozone layer shields the earth from harmful radiation from the sun. This increased radiation contributes to the incidence of skin cancers, cataracts and other health and environmental problems.

The Roche facility has large industrial process refrigeration units as well as comfort cooling units that are regulated by the Clean Air Act. The EPA inspection and subsequent inquiry regarding Roche’s service records revealed that Roche had not conducted follow up repairs of one of its large industrial process refrigeration units. The failure to conduct leak repair verifications may have led to a failure to repair leaks and retrofit or retire the unit. In addition, because some of the service records were missing, there is no way to tell if and how much CFC might have leaked or been released.

After an initial meeting with EPA, the company conducted an environmental audit of the facility’s compliance with environmental regulations. The audit uncovered a large release of the hazardous air pollutants, methanol and chloroform and a number of volatile organic compounds, as well as other related violations. This audit led to an October 31, 2001 civil settlement with the state of New Jersey that addressed these violations. In the agreement with New Jersey, Roche agreed to pay over $1.89 million dollars in civil penalties and conduct nearly a million dollars in environmental projects including monitoring air for sulfur dioxide and toxic air pollutants, conducting an epidemiological study to explore any correlation between concentrations of air pollutants and asthma in school-age children, and forming a community advisory committee.

After continuing negotiations and discussions with EPA regarding the company’s cogeneration unit and CFC-containing units, Roche overhauled the Belvidere facility’s environmental management system. Roche is now in compliance with the requirements relating to the cogeneration unit, and is implementing a CFC leak detection and repair program to comply with the CFC regulations. It has also retrofitted the industrial refrigeration unit and has agreed to pay a penalty for the past violations.