Seadrift, Texas, Chemicals Plant is Ranked one of Top polluters in U.S.
Jan. 16Union Carbide Seadrift Operations was named as the 20th top releaser of cancer-causing air pollution in the United States and the top releaser of such chemicals in Texas in a recently issued report by a Washington-based environmental group that rates plants throughout the country.
The group, Environmental Defense, listed the top 100 releaser of airborne chemicals that can cause cancer, based on the amount of emissions in the 2002 Toxics Release Inventory database available from the Environmental Protection Agency. Of the 14 facilities in Texas, all of which released more than 100,000 pounds of material, the Seadrift facility held the highest spot on the state list with 322,569 pounds of such chemicals released.
The TRI database is formed from a list of 650 toxic chemicals that plants must report to the EPA if they are emitted or leave the site at levels over a set amount.
None of the total emissions levels of any of the facilities on the list violated the law, according to the group.
Most of the carcinogenic air emissions from the Seadrift plant, 88 percent, came from the plant's olefins unit that was shut down in September 2003, wrote Bill Ghant, a spokesman for the plant, in an e-mail.
Emissions of those chemicals in 2004 are expected to have been about 10 percent of what they were in 2002, Ghant wrote.
"We are working diligently to reduce all emissions at our site regardless of what process they may be related to," he wrote.
Environmental Defense maintains a Web site called Scorecard that sorts TRI data into a variety of categories, and ranked plants across the nation on the types and amounts of emissions of TRI-reported chemicals. Several area plants appeared in the top 30 emitters in some of the categories, which are listed both nationwide and for individual states.
Union Carbide ranked 18th in the nation and fourth in the state for releases of recognized reproductive toxicants to the air with 170,059 pounds, 12th in the state for total emissions with 3,636,479 pounds, third in the state for total air releases with 2,344,269 pounds, fourth in the state for total water releases with 1,283,477 pounds, 14th in the state for the release of cancer-causing chemicals to water with 784 pounds, and 12th in the state for recognized developmental toxics to the air with 163,452 pounds.
Several of the rankings for Union Carbide on the site were incorrect, said Ghant, because of a data reporting error that he said has since been fixed by the EPA. The change lowers the pounds of toxic chemicals released to water from 1,283,477 pounds to 226,309, he said. That means that the total emissions from the plant fell from the 3,636,479 reported by Environmental Defense to 2,579,311, Ghant said.
State regulators said the Seadrift plant does a fairly good job of complying with environmental regulations.
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality rates facilities on a point system as being in high, average or poor compliance with environmental regulations, said Terry Clawson, a spokesman for the agency.
High compliance plants are those with a rating of 0.1 or less, while just more than 0.1 to 45 are placed in the average compliance category, he said.
The Seadrift plant has a rating of 0.12, he said, putting it at the top of the average category.
Plants are given points based on criteria such as whether or not they conduct self audits, whether or not they participate in voluntary environmental management systems and voluntary pollution reduction programs, and whether or not they have had any government disciplinary actions taken against them, Clawson said.
Chemical plants in the region around Victoria all have average compliance with environmental regulations, he added.
Other local plants appeared in the top 30 on various other category lists on the Environmental Defense Web site: DuPont Victoria ranked ninth in the nation and fourth in the state for total ground injection with 8,898,844, fifth in the state for total emissions with 9,817,150 pounds, eighth in the state for total water releases with 497,379, and 15th in the state for the release of recognized developmental toxics to water with 164 pounds.
Since 1987, DuPont has been working to eliminate its deep well injections, said DuPont Victoria plant manager Gary Burge. From 1987 to 2002 those injections were reduced by 68 percent, he said.
Those injection wells now belong to the Invista Victoria Site, which was bought from DuPont by Koch industries in May 2004, he noted.
The new ownership is committed to managing its operations in a way that protects the environment and the health of all those in and around the plant, said Amy Hodges, manager of Texas public affairs for Invista.
The part of the plant that remained under DuPont ownership, which employs about 100 people, is working to reach zero emissions as advancing technology continues to contribute to that goal, Burge said.
Formosa Plastics in Point Comfort ranked 26th in the state for total air releases with 764,938 pounds, eighth in the state for release of chemicals with ozone depleting potential with 14,000 pounds, and 29th in the state for releases to the air of cancer-causing materials with 76,693 pounds.
The plant wasn't able to analyze the data presented on the Web site because many of the categories used weren't defined by the site, and are not used in standard industry or government data, said Jim Shephard, plant spokesman.
Also listed in the report is the Lower Colorado River Authority Fayette Power Project in Fayette County, which was rated 28th in the state for total air releases of TRI-reported chemicals.
The plant has been working to reduce the level of TRI emissions through several projects, said Robbie Searcy, a spokesperson for LCRA. Since 1998, the plant has reduced TRI-related emissions per megawatt hour by 30 percent, and total TRI emissions by about 17 percent, she said.
Studies by outside entities have shown the releases don't pose a significant health risk to the surrounding area, she said.
Some plant officials said the rankings can give an incorrect impression about the handling of TRI-reported waste products at their respective sites.
The Web site ranks BP Chemicals as 22nd in the nation and second in the state for total emissions with 18,228,953 pounds, and third in the nation and second in the state for underground injection at 18,133,869 pounds of TRI reported materials.
The plant injects most of the waste into deep ground formations between 5,000 and 8,000 feet below ground, well below the biosphere, said Van Boone, health, safety and environmental manager at the site. Thousands of feet of impenetrable shale prevent the waste from rising into the biosphere, and also keep it from polluting the air or water, he said.
Deep well injection is the preferred disposal form recommended by the EPA for the type of waste the plant produces, he said.
In a similar situation, Lyondell Victoria is rated 21st in the nation and third in the state for total offsite transfer of TRI chemical waste, 16,995,468 pounds worth, according to the Environmental Defense Web site.
In fact, the plant is part of a large chemical complex once under common ownership and the waste was transferred to another plant in the same complex for disposal, said John Bloom, environmental engineer for the site, a system that was designed when both plants were under common ownership.
About 99 percent of the chemicals in this case were consumed for energy in the boilers of a neighboring plant that is now Invista Victoria Site.
Since 2002 the Lyondell plant has reduced offsite transfers of TRI materials by 1.77 million pounds through technology upgrades that increased plant efficiency, and through harvesting some of the byproducts for sale as a solvent product, he said.
The data Environmental Defense used for the site is somewhat dated, admitted Carol Andress, senior policy analyst with the organization, adding that the group is pushing to remedy that problem.
"We've been pushing EPA for a long time to get the data out quicker," she said.
The EPA is taking various steps to try to get the information to the public in a more-timely manner, said Michael Petruska, director of the Toxic Release Inventory Program division for the federal agency.
The 2002 data for the EPA's online TRI database is the most current available in a searchable format, she said.
The old data can't be used to address existing problems, she said. Instead, Environmental Defense uses the information to raise public awareness of emissions levels to pressure companies to reduce pollution levels, Andress said.
The organization's Scorecard Web site allows users to find specific emissions information from the TRI data, along with what potential health threats those releases could pose, Andress said. The Web site can be accessed at www.environmentaldefense.org/go/scorecard.cancer.
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© 2005, Victoria Advocate. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.