Missing air permit prompts EPA charge against Aristech

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 26, 2000

HAVERHILL – Aristech Chemical Corp.

Wednesday, July 26, 2000

HAVERHILL – Aristech Chemical Corp. might face a federal lawsuit over permit violations if the company and environmental regulators cannot reach a settlement in the coming weeks.

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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 5 notified Aristech and another Ohio company in June that it believes they have violated federal or federally enforceable state clean air regulations.

Margaret Sieffert, an EPA Region 5 environmental engineer, called the notice an extension of violations the EPA filed against Aristech last year.

At that time, the EPA alleged the company filed an incomplete application for a federally enforceable operating permit for a major air pollution source.

"We found out they were missing a permit to operate as well and the regulation requires us to notify a company of a violation such as that," Ms. Sieffert said.

The EPA will meet with Aristech in a couple of weeks to discuss the issue and Region 5 officials said they are optimistic there will be a resolution.

The violations are linked to expansions Aristech, formerly U.S.S. Chemical, took more than 10 years ago, plant manager Barry Elswick said.

The company expanded chemical production facilities in 1985 and 1988, which sparked a disagreement with whether or not a permit was needed. Then, emissions were higher than anticipated when tested in 1992, so Aristech fixed the problem and at that point began discussions on how to reconcile permit updates, Elswick said.

Last year, the EPA issued a notice of violation about the permits alleging Aristech constructed an air contaminant source and conducted major modifications without going through the permitting process required under the Clean Air Act, EPA associate regional counsel Karl Karg said.

Another allegation deals with the company violating hazardous organic pollutant emission standards, Karg said.

And the June notice of violation alleges that Aristech has operated two phenol units and its cumene oxidation unit without a permit to operate.

"We’re not alleging their emissions are out of whack," he said. "The gist of the complaint is about reporting requirements they were supposed to meet and in this case they didn’t do it in a timely manner."

Aristech began discussions with the EPA last year and will continue, Elswick said.

"It’s the same issue but it’s just now ready for further discussion," he said. "We hope to bring closure to this in August."

The permit problem doesn’t mean that there have been pollution problems at the plant, Elswick said.

"All of our pollution control devices are in place and we’re below emissions limits and have been," he said. "We just don’t have the paperwork together on that expansion."

It may just be paperwork, but the EPA considers that very important, Karg said.

Until testing and paperwork are done, the EPA cannot be sure there is no danger of other violations, he said.

"We have had productive talks with Aristech," Karg said. "They are taking their obligations very seriously and we’re hopeful those discussions can continue."

Meanwhile, the EPA has requested the U.S. Department of Justice to review the case for possible legal action, although no federal suit has been filed, he said.

Aristech operates production units at its Haverhill plant that make several organic chemicals, including phenol, acetone, alpha methylstyrene, cumene hydroperoxide, bisphenol A, aniline and diphenylamine.