06 November 2000 00:00 [Source: ICB Americas]By Glenn Hess
Morton International Inc. will resolve charges that it violated environmental laws at its Moss Point, Miss., adhesives and sealants plant. The company will pay a $38 million civil settlement and enter into a criminal plea agreement, government and company officials said last week.
Morton, a wholly owned subsidiary of Rohm and Haas Company, has agreed to pay a $20 million penalty under a civil settlement filed in the US District Court in Biloxi, Miss. The penalty is the largest civil fine ever issued for environmental violations at a single facility.
The settlement, filed by the Justice Department on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ), resolves claims that the company violated clean air, clean water and hazardous waste laws.
The agreement requires Morton to perform $16 million worth of projects to enhance the environment. In addition, Rohm and Haas must submit to a third-party environmental audit of all 23 chemical facilities it owns in the US.
Morton will also complete a comprehensive assessment of the Moss Point facility, determine whether corrective measures are needed to address pollution, and undertake any such measures.
In a separate action, Morton pleaded guilty to criminal violations of the Clean Water Act and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). Under a plea agreement, Morton will pay a $2 million criminal penalty for those violations.
"After investigators uncovered criminal behavior, Morton worked with us to achieve a far-reaching agreement that is certain to improve the natural environment both in this Mississippi community and everywhere there is a Morton chemical plant," says Lois Schiffer, the Justice Department's assistant attorney general in charge of the environment.
Mike Fitzpatrick, president and COO of Rohm and Haas, says the company cooperated with federal and state officials to resolve "certain historic environmental issues" associated with the Moss Point facility.
The settlement, he adds, grew out of Morton's discovery and disclosure four years ago of problems with wastewater discharge reports. The company subsequently discovered that the plant's environmental manager was filing false wastewater and groundwater monitoring reports.
Rohm and Haas acquired the 70-acre Moss Point plant in June 1999, when it bought Morton. The facility produces plasticizers, synthetic rubber, rocket polymers and other chemicals and adhesives.
"Our goal as a company is to meet or exceed all applicable laws and regulations and strive for continual improvement in our environmental, health and safety performance," Mr. Fitzpatrick says. "I am confident our workers at the Moss Point facility and the surrounding community are not at risk as a result of our chemical operations."
He stresses that many of the necessary environmental management systems are already in place and Rohm and Haas is committed to "eliminating or reducing emissions, discharges and wastes from every state of our Moss Point operations."
According to the Justice Department, an EPA inspector conducting an evaluation of the facility in 1996 discovered what appeared to be falsified reports submitted to the MDEQ.
Factories with permits issued under the Clean Water Act must periodically file those monitoring reports with regulators, indicating the types and amounts of pollutants they are discharging.
EPA's criminal investigation division in Jackson County, Miss., and the FBI investigated the falsification of Morton's discharge monitoring reports. In February 2000, Morton's former environmental manager, Joe Magazzu, admitted that he falsified the reports and pleaded guilty.
"Besides falsifying data about its discharges of pollution, Morton also committed numerous civil violations of the clean air, clean water and hazardous waste regulations," says John Hankinson, EPA's southeast regional administrator.
"Beyond the record penalty, we are requiring the company to make sure it is complying with every environmental law at all of its facilities nationwide. This joint enforcement action...will protect the public and the environment, in Moss point and across the country."
The discovery of the falsified reports prompted EPA and the MDEQ to launch a joint investigation of the entire Moss Point facility, examining the company's compliance with several state and federal environmental laws.
The agencies found that Morton was disposing of waste ash, sludge, toluene and other hazardous wastes at its on-site landfill without a specific RCRA permit. In addition, regulators determined that the company was disposing of toluene, methyl ethyl ketone and other hazardous wastes in deep injection wells, violating the facility's permit for underground injection facilities.
Under federal law, a company that releases a specified amount of a hazardous substance into the environment is required to immediately notify the National Response Center (NRC). Although Morton disposed of hazardous wastes into its landfill and injection wells on numerous occasions, the Justice Department says the company failed to report that to the NRC, in violation of the Superfund law.
Morton is also alleged to have violated the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act by failing on several occasions between 1993 and 1995 to report to EPA releases into the air and soil of methanol, methyl ethyl ketone, and tol-uene above threshold amounts.
Federal and state officials also allege that the Moss Point facility violated the Clean Air Act by building and operating a new boiler without first obtaining a permit. Mississippi's state plan for implementing the Clean Air Act requires new or significantly modified facilities to obtain a permit before they begin operating.
EPA and MDEQ also found that from 1991 to 1996, Morton "chronically violated" its Clean Water Act permit by discharging excessive amounts of pollutants into the nearby Escatawpa River.
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