(MintPress) – The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a 15-count federal complaint against global plastics producer SABIC Innovative Plastics US LLC, fining the company $1 million in penalties just months after it received several environmental awards.
SABIC, a global producer of polymers and thermoplastics, will pay the fines after the EPA found that the company was violating the Clean Air Act, which protects air quality and regulates emissions of hazardous air pollutants.
The company, which operates plastic factories in Indiana and Alabama, agreed to improve leak detection equipment and repair its practices at the two plants.
According to the complaint, filed Thursday, June 7, SABIC failed to detect, monitor and repair leaks that led to hundreds of tons of hazardous air pollutants being released each year.
Even so, the company’s plant in Mount Vernon, Ind. recently won four awards, three of which it received this year. In 2011, it won the Most Valuable Pollution Prevention award from the National Pollution Prevention Roundtable. This year, it received three separate Responsible Care Energy Efficiency Awards from the American Chemistry Council.
These awards demonstrate SABIC’s ability to “minimize environmental impact while strengthening operational excellence,” according to a press release from the company earlier this year.
“SABIC works continuously to minimize its operational footprint by reducing carbon intensity, improving energy and water use and increasing material efficiency. This effort complements our drive to meet our customers’ toughest environmental challenges…” said Mike Walsh, General Manager, Resins Operations, Innovative Plastics.
By upgrading its monitoring practices, valves and emission controls as well as investing in an environmental program to control hazardous gases, the company is expected to spend $5.3 million and reduce air emissions by as much as 137 tons per year.
However, critics claim that the penalty imposed on the company is not high enough, especially considering the fine will be split between the two plants.
“These big corporations just pay the fines and keep on ticking,” said Mike Callis, a cow, soybean and vegetable farmer who lives near the plant in Alabama.
According to Barbara Evans, a former organizing coordinator at WildLaw, an environmental law firm that has closed from lack of funding, people have different priorities when they are living in low-income communities like the one in which the plant resides in Burkville, Ala.
“It’s hard to say to people, ‘Are you worried about clean air?’” Evans said.
Previously, the Alabama plant has been fined for violations of environmental laws and had to pay a $60,000 penalty in 2010.
According to federal records, the plant released less than 100,000 pounds of on-site chemicals annually from 2007-2009, however, it increased to 283,673 pounds in 2010.
The emissions the company is currently being fined for, known as “fugitive” emissions, are unintentionally released gases or vapors that are leaked directly from equipment in the plant, instead of being released from a stack.
According to the EPA, the pollutants released into the air by the plastic company cause cancer, birth defects, reproductive issues and other serious health effects.
“This compliance program continues our efforts to control fugitive emissions and will require SABIC to upgrade its monitoring and maintenance practices to help prevent future violations,” said Robert Dreher, principal deputy assistant attorney general for the Environment and Natural Resources Division at the Department of Justice.