Image by Jing from Pixabay

18 years. For 18 years a Geismar fertilizer plant ignored the waste water.

A Geismar fertilizer company has agreed to pay a $1.5 million fine and treat more than 1 billion pounds of hazardous wastewater in a settlement of allegations it violated federal and state regulations for more than 18 years. PCS Nitrogen, a subsidiary of Canadian fertilizer manufacturer Nutrien, was charged in a civil complaint filed with a consent decree on Thursday with failing to properly identify and manage waste it began accepting in 2004. The fine will be paid to the federal Environmental Protection Agency and state Department of Environmental Quality. The waste came from a nearby unrelated fertilizer manufacturing plant, from its own sulphuric acid manufacturing plant and from cleaning out railcars used to ship its products. The company mixed those with phosphogypsum waste from the company’s nitrogen fertilizer manufacturing facility, making the combined waste hazardous under federal and state law, according to the settlement agreement filed in U.S. District Court in Baton Rouge.

The waste water is on top of gypsum stacks that must be cleaned up.

The wastewater is within and atop the huge gypsum stacks piled to 200 feet above ground level along property between Louisiana 30 and Louisiana 3115 in Ascension Parish, two miles north of the main PCS Nitrogen plant. Nitrogen is manufactured from phosphoric acid, a chemical the company removed from phosphogypsum rock. The waste gypsum, which itself contains small quantities of acid and radioactive materials, is exempt from federal and state hazardous waste regulations until the other wastes are mixed into it. PCS Nitrogen shut down all operations at its Geismar facility in 2018, except for operations to repair and close its phosphogypsum stacks, the associated network of ditches and pipes used to capture wastewater from within the stacks, and a new plant built to treat and dispose the water from the gypsum piles.

You and I have been drinking it for the past many years.

Much of that water had been allowed to be disposed in the Mississippi River, which is used as the main source of drinking water for as many as 2 million people downstream, including New Orleans, Jefferson, Plaquemines and St. Bernard parishes. Those downstream water systems are often required to assure their water is treated to remove the chemicals released in the plant’s wastewater. Nutrien annouced in May that it was considering the Geismar site as its preferred location to build what the company calls the world’s largest “clean ammonia” facility. That plant represents a $2 billion investment, and the company has said it would not make a final investment decision until 2023. “This is a very important outcome as the facility is located in an area prone to hurricanes and the financial assurance secured will protect taxpayers from paying future closure and cleanup costs,” EPA Acting Assistant Administrator Larry Starfield said in a statement. “This settlement represents a lot of hard work by LDEQ enforcement and legal staffs who joined their EPA counterparts in drafting this settlement,” said DEQ Secretary Chuck Carr Brown. “It will provide a protective solution for decades to come.” “These agreements allow us to focus on new projects like the potential construction at our Geismar site of the world’s largest clean ammonia plant and to further reduce our environmental footprint at the site,” said Richard Holder, general manager of the PCS Nitrogen site.

Opponents point to the past to say what the future will bring.

However, activists argued the settlement underestimates future environmental problems resulting from allowing the gypsum stacks to remain in place. “Once again, a large corporation with billions of dollars gets off by paying pocket change and the environment and people of Louisiana will have to foot a large bill in the future to clean up PCS Nitrogen’s mess,” said Darryl Malek-Wiley of the Sierra Club in New Orleans. He said the fine should be ten times larger to address the effects on the environment, and warned that the agreement’s financial surety requirements could be far short of potential cleanup costs. “Leaving these phosphogypsum waste stacks in place in a hurricane flood zone is madness. These stacks will be an environmental ticking timebomb that continues to place people and the environment of Louisiana at risk,” he said. “We are glad to see this enforcement action, but it is frustrating to see that little was done for years to address this pollution before a few years ago,” said Matt Rota of New Orleans-based Healthy Gulf. He said equally disturbing is that the company’s present wastewater discharge permit allows it to dispose of as much as 1,500 pounds of phosphate at a time into the Mississippi River, which already carries nitrogen and phosphorus runoff from the Midwest to the Gulf of Mexico, where it forms a low-oxygen summer “dead zone.” “That’s enough phosphorus to fertilize at least 7 acres of corn,” he said.

Thi is not the first plant to be fined.

New Jersey-based Innophos, which manufactures purified phosphoric acid at a facility near Geismar, was fined $1.7 million in 2017 for its role in improperly disposing of the hazardous waste at the PCS Nitrogen facility. Two very acidic wastes contaminated with arsenic, cadmium and chromium were piped back to PCS Nitrogen, which had been selling partly treated phosphoric acid to Innophos. As part of the settlement agreement, EPA and DEQ will equally split PCS Nitrogen’s $1,510,023 fine. The company also has agreed to assure that $84 million will be available to complete the closure of the gypsum stacks and other waste facilities on the company’s 1,050-acre properties along the Ascension and Iberville parishes border. In a separate settlement agreement with the state DEQ in May, PCS Nitrogen agreed to pay a $160,000 fine for a variety of violations of state wastewater regulations in 2021, including unpermitted releases into the Mississippi River from the site and releases containing more pollutants than allowed under the company’s existing permits.

I guess the attitude was that since the downstream water systems cleaned the water why worry.

Geismar fined for waste water and must clean it up
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