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Louisiana Chemical Plant Charged with Multiple Environmental Violations

Release Date: 4/30/1999
Contact Information: For more information contact the Office of External Affairs at (214) 665-2200.

    The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in consultation with the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ),  has  filed a complaint against Westlake Petrochemicals Corp. of  Sulphur, La., for violations of federal and state regulations governing air emissions, the storage and handling of hazardous materials, and the use of toxic substances. Proposed federal penalties total $305,830. LDEQ also issued a notice of $22,854 in proposed penalties for violations of state water quality regulations.

     "While EPA's focus is on fostering compliance with environmental regulations, we will not hesitate to enforce environmental laws. Unfortunately, it sometimes requires legal action to remind companies of their continuing responsibility to ensure that their actions do not threaten the public health or the environment of surrounding communities," EPA Regional Administrator Gregg Cooke said.

     LDEQ Secretary J. Dale Givens noted, "The success of our joint enforcement efforts clearly demonstrates the effectiveness of partnerships between state and federal environmental regulators. Cooperation and communication are vital to stringent enforcement of laws and regulations designed to protect Louisiana residents and safeguard our air, land and waters.

     Several joint inspections by the two agencies between December 1997 and August 1998 revealed a laundry list of environmental offenses. In a complaint filed April 22,1999, EPA alleges that Westlake Petrochemicals repeatedly failed to control the smoke from a flare and failed to report the violations as required by the Clean Air Act. The plant also allegedly failed to properly label at least five pieces of leaking equipment which contributed to illegal air emissions. Additionally, the facility was cited for improperly sampling and testing waste for benzene."

     Inspectors found that Westlake Petrochemicals had failed to report its use of chlorine dioxide from 1993  through 1997. This is one of the chemicals that the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act requires companies  to include in their annual Toxic Release Inventory report. EPA alleges that the company also failed to accurately report its use of pyrolysis oil as required by the Toxic Substances Control Act.

     EPA's complaint charges Westlake Petrochemicals with improperly labeling and storing hazardous chemicals including mercury, chloroform and benzene in violation of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. In a testing area inspectors found improperly labeled open containers of mercury and chloroform. They also observed large open containers of benzene-saturated rags in a maintenance yard and spent carbon-contaminated benzene that had evidently been spilled on the ground around these containers. Hazardous materials are supposed to be clearly labeled as hazardous and stored in closed containers.

     EPA also alleges that the company did not inspect areas where hazardous waste was stored to ensure that it was stored safely and that surrounding areas were not contaminated. Westlake Petrochemicals is also charged with failing to train employees in safe handling of these materials and in correct emergency response procedures.

     LDEQ's penalty assessment cited alleged water quality violations regarding record- keeping, reporting and laboratory practices noted during a July 1998 multimedia inspection. The facility is charged with failing to monitor biochemical oxygen demand according to EPA-approved testing procedures. LDEQ's penalty assessment also cited discharges above the facility's Louisiana Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit limits. Effluent violations for naphthalene, chloroform, toluene, benzene, pH, acenaphthene and fluorene were noted from November 1997 through October 1998.

     EPA, LDEQ and Westlake Petrochemicals are currently negotiating and hope to reach a  final agreement soon.