In what could be the first action in a broad Environmental Protection Agency probe into emissions of toxic chemicals in the PVC industry, Occidental Chemical Corp. agreed July 14 to cut emissions of vinyl chloride monomer at its Pottstown, Pa., facility.
The company said it will reduce VC emissions by 38 percent by mid-2005, and it agreed to pay a $150,000 fine to settle EPA charges that it violated federal clean air and water and waste-handling laws. Vinyl chloride is a carcinogen.
The announcement comes as EPA officials said they have looked at seven of the 22 largest PVC plants in the country, and plan to examine more. No other charges have been brought.
Dallas-based OxyChem did not admit any wrongdoing, but said it will spend $900,000 to reduce VC emissions in Pottstown from 75 tons a year to 481/2 tons. The company also will forfeit any pollution credits from the VC reductions that could be used in emissions trading systems.
OxyChem plant manager Sam Morris said the agreement is fair and ``demonstrates OxyChem's willingness to go beyond compliance and cooperate effectively with regulatory agencies.''
Morris said the change will not hurt the plant's productivity.
The Pottstown plant is one of the top two emitters of VC in the country, along with Formosa Plastics Corp. USA's PVC plant in Delaware City, Del., said James Kenney, an EPA environmental engineer who is spearheading the PVC review. Kenney spoke in a July 15 telephone interview, as he was inspecting a PVC plant in Texas.
The PVC review is part of a new method the agency is trying out, which calls for simultaneously looking at emissions into air, water and land, rather than looking at each of them individually.
Kenney said the review, dubbed a ``multimedia investigation,'' started because EPA officials saw anecdotal evidence that emissions were being shifted intentionally or accidentally from one to the other.
When EPA first talked about the multimedia approach two years ago, it also said it would look at the plastic foam industry. EPA spokesman David Sternberg said he did not have any information on the status of that plan.
Kenney said industry officials generally have been supportive of EPA's approach, although he said some companies object to the inspections, which can last one to three weeks and involve a team of up to seven EPA officials on site.
He praised OxyChem for working cooperatively with the agency and making serious strides toward reducing emissions.
``These projects, which go beyond what is required by law, are an important step toward improving public health and the environment for the residents of Pottstown and the surrounding communities,'' said Donald Welsh, regional administrator for EPA's office in Philadelphia, in a news release.
Kenney said the agency chose PVC because it wants to reduce emissions of VC and five other toxic chemicals, and found that most VC emissions come from the industry, allowing the agency to target its resources.
He said the agency looked at factors like environmental justice and the health of communities surrounding plants, including how they fare on public health indices like low-birth-weight babies and cancer mortality.