The Italian Environment Ministry ordered EVC International NV, Europe's leading PVC producer, to close its Porto Marghera, Italy, vinyl chloride monomer and PVC resin plants temporarily, after VCM gas escaped into the atmosphere June 8.
Almost 2,000 pounds of VCM gas was released into the air from the PVC resin and compounding complex, but the company said local authorities have confirmed that the concentration of VCM at ground level is well below legal limits.
Regional authorities recommended the closing following a local investigation. On June 23, Italian Environment Minister Edo Ronchi ordered the firm to shut the plants down, according to EVC.
The plant has the capacity to make 440 million pounds of suspension PVC resin annually, plus 66 million pounds of flexible PVC compounds, according to the Amsterdam, Netherlands-based company.
On June 25, EVC said it would take more than a week to close the plant.
Asked to estimate how long the shutdown is likely to last, EVC spokeswoman Erica Lo Buglio responded: ``We don't know. The Ministry has asked us to provide a new security plan for the plant at Porto Marghera. We are trying to understand their expectations and, based on these, we can work out how long it will close.''
The company said it will use its other European plants to make up part of the lost production. Lo Buglio said if the closure is prolonged it will be difficult to cover all the demand, but EVC expects to have a better idea of the situation by early July.
The gas escaped through an automatic safety valve in a chimney stack. The incident is under investigation, but the company believes it was the result of a process malfunction, according to Lo Buglio.
In a statement, EVC said the emission occurred through ``the appropriate safety venting mechanisms [and] did not create a health hazard to the plant workers or to the local population.''