DuPont, Lucite fined $2 million over pollution equipment

DuPont Co. and Lucite International have agreed to pay $2 million in fines for not upgrading pollution-control equipment when they added equipment to increase production at a sulfuric acid plant in Belle, federal officials announced Monday.

DuPont and Lucite violated federal and state pollution laws by not telling regulators about the expansion, failing to obtain permits for the changes, and neglecting to include emissions-control improvements, according to documents filed in U.S. District Court in Charleston.

The violations were cited at a sulfuric acid plant that is part of DuPont’s sprawling chemical manufacturing site in Belle. The facility has changed hands several times. It is currently owned by Lucite, which is partly a DuPont spin-off firm, but has been continually operated by DuPont.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials and Department of Justice lawyers filed both a lawsuit and a settlement of that suit Monday in federal court. The deal is subject to a public comment period and approval by a federal judge.

At the plant in question, sulfuric acid is produced using a process in which elemental sulfur or spent sulfuric acid is burned to form sulfur dioxide, which is then converted to sulfur trioxide and then finally converted to sulfuric acid.

State officials said DuPont made production changes between 1988 and 1996, including replacement and upgrades of a heat exchanger, gas control valves, an air pre-heater and a furnace dome.

These changes resulted in “significant net emissions increases” of sulfur dioxide and sulfuric acid mist. Federal officials said that sulfur dioxide emissions alone jumped to eight times the allowed limit.

But DuPont never submitted permit applications under EPA’s “new source review” program, and the changes were not discovered until EPA enforcement inspectors launched a nationwide examination of sulfuric acid plants similar to one that previously targeted coal-fired power plants.