Boston-based Cabot Corporation, the second largest carbon black manufacturer in the United States, will pay a $975,000 civil penalty and spend an estimated $84 million on technology to control harmful air pollution, resolving alleged violations of the New Source Review (NSR) provisions of the Clean Air Act (CAA). Three plants in the towns of Franklin and Ville Platte, Louisiana and Pampa, Texas are affected. This agreement is the first to result from a national enforcement initiative aimed at bringing carbon black manufacturers into compliance with the CAA’s NSR provisions. More will surely follow.
Carbon black is a fine powder used as a structural support medium in tires and as a pigment in a variety of products such as plastic, rubber, inkjet toner and cosmetics. It is produced by burning oil in a low oxygen environment, transforming it into soot, or carbon black. Because the oil used in the process is inexpensive high sulfur oil, the manufacturing process creates significant amounts of SO2 and NOX, as well as particulate matter.
“This agreement will remove uncertainty and enable a more consistent approach to our manufacturing strategy. As the first party in our industry sector to come to an agreement with the USEPA, we also believe this will set the standard for the entire U.S. carbon black industry,” said Patrick Prevost, Cabot president and chief executive officer.
The consent decree requires that Cabot optimize existing controls for particulate matter or soot, operate an “early warning” detection system that will alert facility operators to any particulate matter releases, and comply with a plan to control “fugitive emissions” which result from leaks or unintended releases of gases. To address nitrogen oxide (NOx) pollution, Cabot must install selective catalytic reduction technology to significantly reduce emissions, install continuous monitoring, and comply with stringent limits.
At the two larger facilities in Louisiana, Cabot must address sulfur dioxide (SO2) pollution by installing wet gas scrubbers to control emissions, install continuous monitoring, and comply with stringent emissions limits. In addition, the Texas facility is required to comply with a limit on the amount of sulfur in feedstock that is the lowest for any carbon black plant in the United States.
These measures are expected to reduce NOx emissions by 1,975 tons per year, SO2 emissions by 12,380 tons per year, and significantly improve existing particulate matter controls.
Exposure to NOx emissions can cause severe respiratory problems and contribute to childhood asthma. SO2 and NOx can be converted to fine particulate matter once released in the air. Fine particulates can be breathed in and lodged deep in the lungs, leading to a variety of health problems and even premature death. The harmful health and environmental impacts from these pollutants can occur near the facilities as well as in communities far downwind from the plants.
In the complaint filed by DOJ on behalf of EPA, the government alleged that, between 2003 and 2009, Cabot made major modifications at its carbon black facilities without obtaining pre-construction permits and without installing and operating required pollution technology. The complaint further alleges that these actions resulted in increased emissions of NOx and SO2, violating CAA requirements stating that companies must obtain the necessary permits prior to making modifications at a facility and must install and operate required pollution control equipment if those modifications will result in increases of certain pollutants.
The settlement also requires that Cabot spend $450,000 on energy saving and pollution reduction projects that will benefit the communities surrounding the facilities in Franklin and Ville Platte, La., and in Pampa, Texas, such as upgrading air handling units at municipal buildings in the three communities to more efficient technology.