The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality is issuing a notice of potential penalty to Dow Chemical Co. less than six months after a local television station aired a report of potential vinyl chloride monomer contamination at Dow's Plaquemine, La., plant.
The notice is the first step required in the state's penalty assessment process, according to LDEQ spokeswoman Analisa Mir. Mir declined to discuss details of the notice, but said Dow has the option to rebut any allegations made by the agency.
Earlier, LDEQ official Bruce Hammat told Baton Rouge, La.-based TV station WBRZ that the agency had found ``multiple environmental violations'' at the plant.
A grand jury in Iberville Parish, La., also is investigating the case. Both the grand jury and LDEQ investigations began in August after WBRZ aired a report in which several former Dow employees claimed water used to clean railroad cars containing VCM - a key PVC feedstock - was emptied into the ground at the site.
LDEQ has interviewed five former Dow employees who also spoke with WBRZ, Mir said. Dow has provided the agency with 20 boxes of records documenting its procedures and environmental compliance at the plant.
``We're going to look into different issues, not just those alleged by WBRZ,'' Mir said in a telephone interview. ``We're looking into possible air, water and solid waste contamination.''
Mir described Dow as being ``very cooperative'' in the investigation. Dow said in a news release that it has completed its investigation into ``historical vinyl chloride tank-car-cleaning procedures'' and has provided information to the Iberville Parish district attorney. According to Dow, the firm and the prosecutor have agreed not to discuss ``developments related to this issue.''
The statement further said that Dow ``is currently unaware of any penalties that were assessed by regulatory agencies as a result'' of WBRZ's investigation.
Former Dow employees interviewed by LDEQ discussed contamination occurring in and before the early 1990s, Mir said. A current Dow contract worker who testified before the grand jury told WBRZ that the dumping of VCM-related waste water occurred as recently as 1999.
In May 2001 LDEQ found VCM contamination in a pair of wells near the Myrtle Grove trailer park in Plaquemine. Neither of the wells was used for drinking water, and a government report released in July claimed VCM levels found in the wells were unlikely to be harmful even if people had consumed the water. Dow has denied its plant is responsible for contamination in the wells.
In a recent advertisement in area newspapers, Dow claims that directional water flow in the area rules out the Dow plant as a source of the VCM contamination near the trailer park, which is about two miles away.
Dow also contends that VCM would evaporate before it could soak into the ground, according to the advertisement. The ad suggests the VCM could have come from bacterial breakdown of perchloroethylene or trichloroethylene, which are common solvents used in cleaners and degreasers.
Dow's Plaquemine site has received 12 LDEQ penalties since 1988, according to agency records. Most recently the site was fined $1.3 million for hazardous waste violations Dec. 3.