EPA Fines Springfield ?Corporate Citizen?

Can politicians be annoying, or what?

A year ago this month, Solutia, the Monsanto successor in Indian Orchard that makes resins for auto paint, shatterproof glass for cars and protective film for touch screens and electronic devices, gave DevelopSpringfield $30,000 to help Springfield’s ongoing effort to rehabilitate parts of the city damaged by the tornado of 2011.

And Solutia didn’t hand the group the check behind closed doors.

Instead, there had to be a press conference, not at City Hall but at the federal courthouse. That Mayor Domenic Sarno was on hand was appropriate, considering that it was over his city that roofs were flying as if someone were making a new film version of the Wizard of Oz on the horrific day when the tornado struck.

But also ensuring that Solutia’s gift was turned into a media draw was Springfield’s man in Washington, U.S. Rep. Richie Neal.

Solutia had been “a great corporate citizen” and a good employer, said Neal, who harvested $5,000 for his 2011-2012 congressional campaign from Solutia. That’s a modest sum compared to the $19,500 Neal got from New York Life and the $15,000 offered up by United Technologies, but it’s still not exactly phone change.

Now fast-forward to late December, 2012, when the federal Environmental Protection Agency had something quite different to say about Solutia.

Pursuant to a consent decree, Solutia and a sister operation on the same premises, INEOS Melamines LLC, will pay $970,000 to settle charges that they violated the Clean Air Act during the years between 2003 and 2010 (well before Solutia was purchased by Eastman Chemical of Tennessee earlier this year).

During that same period, by the way—in 2007—Solutia was fourth on the EPA’s list of the five worst on- and off-site toxics emitters in Massachusetts (the Mount Tom power plant was second).

The Solutia-INEOS plant uses formaldehyde, which can cause pulmonary edema, and methanol, a toxin that in extreme cases can affect the nervous system, to produce auto paint resins. The operation had failed to meet leak detection and repair requirements laid out in its federal and state permits, according to the EPA.

Specifically, said the agency, the plant’s operators “failed to use suitable and/or properly calibrated leak detection instruments, identify unsafe and difficult to monitor equipment, implement a plant-wide leak detection and repair program, and properly report compliance in semi-annual certifications.”

Leaks of hazardous materials endanger the plant’s 425 employees as well as the public, the agency pointed out in a press release. (Solutia’s new owner, Eastman, has issued statements to the effect that the company now has updated leak detection equipment.)

It’s not only in Springfield that Solutia has been chastised by the EPA. In Texas, West Virginia, Alabama and Missouri the company has been charged with pollution of air and water in recent years.

Solutia’s Chocolate Bayou Alvin facility, spewing hydrogen cyanide, ammonia and the poison gas acrolein, was number 1 on the EPA’s list of the top 10 facilities in Texas for total chemical releases, on-site and off-site, in 2009.

In Alabama in 2003, Solutia and its then-parent company Monsanto paid a penalty of $700 million for 40 years of PCB contamination. Dare we hope that over the next decade this “great corporate citizen” will show more regard for its employees and the environment than it did in the last?•

Author: Stephanie Kraft

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