The case, filed by the Justice Department on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ), was brought due to violations of clean air, clean water, and hazardous waste laws, in the city of Moss Point, about 10 miles inland from the Gulf of Mexico. The company, Morton International Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Rohm and Haas Company has agreed to pay a $20 million civil fine, to be divided equally between the EPA and MDEQ. The penalty is the largest ever for a single facility, and one of the largest collected by EPA, reflecting the unprecedented extent of the violations, according to the Agency.

The infringements first came to light in 1996 with the discovery of falsified environmental reports submitted to the MDEQ concerning the amounts and types of pollutants discharged under the Clean Water Act. Investigation by the EPA Criminal Investigation Division and the FBI led, in February 2000, to Morton’s former environmental manager admitting to falsification of the reports, resulting in the company’s guilty plea on 26 October.

“After investigators uncovered criminal behaviour, Morton worked with us to achieve a far-reaching agreement that is certain to improve the natural environment both in this Mississippi community and everywhere there is a Morton chemical plant,” said Lois J Schiffer, Assistant Attorney General in charge of the environment at the Justice Department.

The facility, which employs 250 people, manufactures plasticisers, synthetic rubber, rocket polymers, and other chemicals and adhesives. As well as the civil fine, Morton has also agreed to pay a $2 million criminal fine, $10 million for a waste management project, $4 million for repair and upgrade of sewers in the Moss Point region, and $2 million towards a University of Southern Mississippi research project producing environmentally-friendly replacements for hazardous wastes.

Under the settlement, the company will also have to pay for a comprehensive, independent audit for all 23 Morton chemical facilities located across the US. According to the EPA, the audits will cost the company a further $600,000 to $1.2 million.

“Besides falsifying data about its discharges of pollution, Morton also committed numerous civil violations of the clean air, clean water, and hazardous waste regulations,” said John H Hankinson, Junior, EPA Regional Administrator for the Southeast. “Beyond the record penalty, we are requiring the company to make sure it is complying with every environmental law at all of its facilities nationwide. This joint enforcement action by the federal government and the State of Mississippi will protect the public and the environment, in Moss Point and across the country.”

According to the EPA, the most significant violations include:

  • under the Resource Recovery and Conservation Act – illegal treatment, storage, and disposal of hazardous waste; illegal disposal of hazardous wastes into a landfill; poor maintenance of landfill, leading to overflows during rain and possible underground leaks; acceptance of offsite hazardous waste without a permit; and falsification of monitoring well reports;
  • under the Resource Recovery and Conservation Act/Safe Drinking Water Act – illegal disposal of hazardous wastes into underground injection wells and improper operation and maintenance of the wells;
  • under the Clean Water Act – falsification of nearly one hundred discharge monitoring reports, which concealed hundreds of illegal discharges of pollutants to a local river, and the exceedance of more than 600 effluent limits;
  • under the Clean Air Act – no operating permit, and no operation and maintenance log for a regulated source of air pollution;
  • under the Emergency Planning, Community Right-to-Know Act/Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act – numerous unreported releases of hazardous waste.

“This co-operation between MDEQ, EPA and the Department of Justice demonstrates our commitment to protect the citizens of the state of Mississippi and our resources of land, air, and water from wilful environmental violators, regardless of where they live,” said Charles Chisolm, Executive Director of the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality. “The settlement provides millions of dollars of assistance to the Moss Point community to further improve its environmental community health.”

Parent company, Rhom and Haas Company, appears to be enthusiastic about rectifying the Moss Point problems. “Our goal as a company is to meet or exceed all applicable laws and regulations and strive for continual improvement in our environmental, health and safety performance,” Said Mike Fitzpatrick, President and Chief Operating Officer at Rohm and Haas. “I am confident our workers at the Moss Point facility and the surrounding community are not at risk as a result of our chemical operations. Many of the necessary environmental management systems are already in place and we are committed to bringing the facility into full compliance. That includes eliminating or reducing emissions, discharges and wastes from every stage of our Moss Point operations.”

In the past, Rhom and Haas Company has received a number of awards from the EPA, including two Presidential Green Chemistry Awards for designing safe chemicals.

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