The feds yesterday ordered a major U.S. producer of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) resin, a known cancer-causing agent, to pay $12 million in fines and to clean up its facilities after determining that it violated antipollution laws.

The U.S. Justice Department and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) charged Shintech, Inc. and its subsidiary K-Bin, Inc., with violating the Clean Air and Water acts as well as the Resources Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), which was passed in 1976 and serves as the Unites States' primary law governing the disposal of solid and hazardous waste.

The companies were ordered to pay a $2.6 million fine and to spend $4.8 million to upgrade their facilities to reduce ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbon emissions and improve hazardous waste management at plants in Freeport, Texas. The companies were also told to fork over another $4.7 million to retrofit its plants to reduce emissions of polyvinyl chloride by 10,000 pounds (4,536 kilograms) a year as well as to help fund other environmental projects. Among them: the addition of at least 300 acres of forest and wetlands to Austin's Woods preserve (also called the Colombia Bottomlands area) managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and a new program in Houston that will pick up and recycle residential appliances containing ozone-depleting refrigerant.

The Clean Air Act (first passed in 1963 and amended many times since) regulates emission of harmful chemicals such as chlorofluorocarbons, hydrochlorofluorocarbons, and other chemicals in refrigeration units that leak into the atmosphere and destroy the ozone layer, exposing Earth to higher levels ultraviolet radiation from the sun. The complaint against Shintech and K-Bin alleges they failed to comply with provisions of the law that require the prompt detection and repair of equipment leaking ozone-depleting chemicals.

Last April, the EPA ordered subsidiary Shintech Louisiana LLC to pay a $426,530 civil penalty for violating regs at two of its plants in Addis, La. The company was accused of failing to identify, keep records of its hazardous waste and obtain required government approval to manage and store hazardous waste.

Although the inspection of the Shintech and K-BIN facilities was part of EPA's PVC initiative, the violations did not stem from its polyvinyl chloride emissions, a major focus of the EPA in recent years. An alert the EPA issued a year ago noted that vinyl chloride (VC), an odorless gas, "is a known human carcinogen also linked to neurological disorders" and that the agency has "ramped up enforcement against the polyvinyl chloride (PVC) manufacturing industry, which is responsible for the majority of our nation's air emissions of VC."

In recent years, the EPA has handed out millions of dollars in penalties to chemical companies for violating the CAA, RCRA, and other environmental laws, although Shintech's penalty is the largest to date. Atlanta-based Georgia Gulf Chemicals and Vinyls, LLC  in December 2007 was ordered to spend $2.9 million to, among other things, remove vinyl chloride from process wastewater and to pony up $610,00 penalties to the feds and the state of Mississippi, the location of the plant that broke the law. Similarly, Dallas-based Oxy Vinyls LP in June 2006 agreed to spend more than $1.2 million on environmental improvement projects designed to reduce vinyl chloride emissions by more than 40,000 pounds (18,144 kilograms) per year as well as pay a $140,000 civil penalty and a $200,000 penalty to New Jersey after one of its plants in Pedricktown was cited.

(Image courtesy of iStockphoto; Copyright: Robert Robinson)