How many violations are too many violations.
Federal regulators have ordered an alumina production plant in St. James Parish to remove two workers over training issues and hit the company with 36 new health and safety citations. The new violations are the latest leveled by the Mine Safety and Health Administration against the Atalaco Gramercy plant, which has racked up 370 safety citations in two years, federal data show. The rust-colored plant along the Mississippi River is a longtime fixture at the foot of the Veterans Memorial Bridge and is the last refinery of its kind in the United States. In operation since the 1950s, originally as Kaiser Aluminum, the complex in Gramercy employs 550 people. The company now is primarily owned by Concord Resources Ltd., which acquired a majority stake in the plant and related aluminum facilities in July 2021.nola.com
The plant does not take quick action on spills.
In a statement Tuesday, federal mine safety officials said their inspectors recently found the plant failed to take “prompt appropriate action to correct caustic material spills” and improperly maintained electrical equipment. The electrical equipment created “potentially dangerous conditions” that could lead to electrocution, the agency noted. The agency added that across the country, three truck drivers from other companies whose vehicles contacted overhead power lines have been killed this year in electrical accidents. The spill cleanup failure exposed workers “to possible slips, trips and falls,” a problem that was already known to the company, officials added. Though federal officials did not identify which caustic spills were safety violations, separate state regulatory records show the complex had two accidents involving caustic liquid reported in the past nine months, injuring three workers, one severely. Federal regulators also cited the operation in Gramercy for workers parking mobile equipment on an incline without engaging the brakes or using “chocks” to wedge the wheels to keep them from rolling downhill. Atalco Gramercy officials said they are aware of the citations, that they regularly work with federal regulators to resolve valid concerns and that their efforts to upgrade the plant’s operations are taking time.
The new owners are trying to being the pant up form where they found it.
The company has been investing heavily in the complex and in recruiting and training workers, the officials added, to recover from a lack of such attention from the prior ownership group. “We take our responsibility of operating the last alumina refinery in the U.S. very seriously. We also take very seriously the safety of our 550 employees and numerous contractor partners who work at Gramercy,” Atalco officials said in a statement. Mine safety officials didn’t immediately return requests for comment Tuesday. The latest violations stemmed from what the mine safety regulator calls a monthly “impact inspection,” one of 25 conducted in January and February across the nation. Such inspections are reserved for facilities that “merit increased agency attention and enforcement due to factors that include poor compliance history; previous accidents, injuries, and illnesses; and other compliance concerns,” the agency notes. “The Mine Safety and Health Administration is focused on identifying conditions that can lead to serious accidents given the number of fatalities the mining industry has experienced so far this year,” said Chris Williamson, assistant secretary for mine safety and health, in a statement. Atalco Gramercy has been fined nearly a total of $551,400 for nearly two-thirds of the 370 citations issued against it since July 2021 and has paid nearly $396,300 of that, agency data show. Some of the remaining unpaid fines are being contested by the company. About 125 violations haven’t been assessed fines yet, including those issued this year, agency data shows.
Some of the violations seem to be caused by inattention to what the workers were doing.
One of the two caustic liquid spills happened June 9 when a worker opened a nozzle on a tank that had recently been cleaned out with caustic liquid, the state Department of Environmental Quality reported. All the cleaning liquid, however, had not been removed from the tank, so when the nozzle was opened, the worker was sprayed, DEQ reported. The worker suffered serious chemical burns and was sent to University Medical Center in New Orleans, Atalco Gramercy reported to DEQ. The incident was also reported to the federal mine safety regulator. Though that spill did not escape the plant’s containment systems, a subsequent one on Jan. 6 did. The spilled material reached an internal facility road, which had to be shut down and washed off, a DEQ report says. Two workers were injured by that spill, DEQ reported. The Atalaco Gramercy operation does not involve an underground mine on its site along the Mississippi but falls under MSHA’s oversight. The complex processes red bauxite ore that is mined in Jamaica and shipped up the river to the plant.
The plant makes alumina which is a building block for aluminum and other uses.
The plant makes alumina, a building block for aluminum and also a specialty chemical in its own right. The ore processing leaves behind tens of thousands of tons per year of waste material laced with trace contaminants and low-level radioactive elements. Red mud has been stacked up for decades across several hundred acres of leveed-off containment ponds, known as red mud lakes. They ring the plant complex near Airline Highway and, along with plant operations, have been the focus of periodic dust complaints from neighbors. In late November, the company reached a $75,000 settlement with DEQ over years of prior dust, other air emissions problems and additional violations predating the recent shift in ownership.
Being the last one probably means that is is fairly old.