by Sarah Fenske
A chemical manufacturing plant in Louisiana, Missouri, just north of St. Louis, failed to properly monitor for leaks of hazardous air pollutants, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency charges -- leading to a $245,521 fine.
The settlement was filed in federal court this morning, four years after the EPA identified Kentucky-based Hercules' Clean Air Act violations during an inspection. The EPA's complaint, also filed this morning, alleges that its 2007 inspection revealed that Hercules failed to follow federal laws requiring leak detection systems -- even as it used such toxic substances as formaldehyde and methanol, which has been linked to cancer in humans.
Hercules failed to cap at least three lines of the formaldehyde unit, as the law requires. Even worse, one of the lines was "visibly leaking." The EPA alleges that the company also failed to monitor for leaks in three key areas of the plant.
The good news is that things are changing at the Louisiana plant. According to the settlement filed in federal court today, Hercules has documented to the EPA that, as of March 2011, it "ceased operation of the formaldehyde process line" at the Louisiana plant -- and that "Hercules does not intend to operate the formaldehyde equipment in the future."
Formaldehyde is a known human carcinogen -- it's been linked to both leukemia and nasopharyngeal cancer. According to the U.S. Department of Health,
Several NCI surveys of professionals who are potentially exposed to formaldehyde in their work, such as anatomists and embalmers, have suggested that these individuals are at an increased risk of leukemia and brain cancer compared with the general population. However, specific work practices and exposures were not characterized in these studies. An NCI case-control study among funeral industry workers that characterized exposure to formaldehyde also found an association between increasing formaldehyde exposure and mortality from myeloid leukemia (4). For this study, carried out among funeral industry workers who had died between 1960 and 1986, researchers compared those who had died from hematopoietic and lymphatic cancers and brain tumors with those who died from other causes. (Hematopoietic or hematologic cancers such as leukemia develop in the blood or bone marrow. Lymphatic cancers develop in the tissues and organs that produce, store, and carry white blood cells that fight infections and other diseases.) This analysis showed that those who had performed the most embalming and those with the highest estimated formaldehyde exposure had the greatest risk of myeloid leukemia.
The $245,521 fine is due in 30 business days.