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Columbian Chemicals Company Clean Air Act Settlement

(Washington, D.C. – December 22, 2017) - EPA and the Department of Justice announced a Clean Air Act (CAA) settlement with Columbian Chemicals Company that will significantly reduce air pollution from two carbon black manufacturing plants in Franklin, Louisiana and Hickok, Kansas. The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ) and Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) participated in the settlement.

Carbon black is a fine carbonaceous 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. Because the oil used as the carbon black feed is low value high sulfur oil, the manufacturing process creates large amounts of sulfur dioxide, and significant amounts of nitrogen oxide and particulate matter.

Overview of Company

Columbian owns and operates two carbon black manufacturing plants in Franklin, Louisiana and Hickok, Kansas, and is headquartered in Georgia. Columbian is the smallest carbon black manufacturer in the United States. 

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The EPA initiated investigation of the carbon black manufacturing sector in 2007, and of Columbian in 2009. Based upon Columbian’s response to the EPA’s CAA Section 114 information requests and other information obtained during its investigation, the EPA concluded that modifications were performed at its plants that violated the Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) provisions of the CAA.

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Injunctive Relief

The consent decree secures injunctive relief from all of Columbian’s carbon black manufacturing facilities in the United States. Compliance with the settlement will reduce sulfur dioxide (SO2) and oxides of nitrogen (NOx) by approximately 6,354 tons per year from 2015 levels. Particulate matter (PM) emissions will also be reduced. The EPA estimates that the cost of the injunctive relief will be approximately $94 million. 

The settlement requires:

  • Installation and operation of selective catalytic reduction and compliance with enforceable 7-day and 365-day rolling average emissions limits for NOx at its largest facility in Franklin, Louisiana (one of the three largest carbon black facilities in the United States);
  • Installation and operation of dry or wet flue gas desulfurization and compliance with enforceable 7-day and 365-day rolling average emissions limits for SO2 and enforceable 3-hour average emissions limits for PM at its facility in Franklin, Louisiana facility;
  • Installation and operation of a low NOx combustion system or co-generation system (boiler, low NOx burner, and overfire air, with or without co-generation), and compliance with a facility-wide NOx permit limit in tons per year, at its Hickok, Kansas, facility.
  • Compliance with enforceable permit limits of no more than 1.75 percent sulfur content feed, on an annual average basis, and 2 percent sulfur content feed, on a monthly average basis, at its Hickok, Kansas, facility;
  • Optimization and maintenance of existing control devices on other PM emissions points (e.g., baghouses, reactors, various vents and filters) at all of its facilities;
  • Compliance with a fugitive emissions best management practices control plan at all of its facilities;
  • Operation of an early warning PM detection system, that signals when there has been a non-nominal release of PM, at all of its facilities; and
  • Installation and operation of NOx continuous emissions monitors at all of its facilities and SO2 continuous emissions monitors at its facility in Franklin, Louisiana.
  • Cessation of operation of flares at all of its facilities and operation of other technologies for compliance with the carbon black Maximum Achievable Control Technology standard, aside from specifically identified limited uses of the flare at its Hickok, Kansas facility. 

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Pollutant Reductions

As compared to Columbian’s 2015 emissions, EPA expects the following emission reductions to result from this settlement:

  • SO2 about 5,889 tons per year
  • NOx about 465 tons per year

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Health Effects and Environmental Benefits 

The pollutants reduced under this settlement have numerous adverse environmental and health effects. Sulfur dioxides and nitrogen oxides can be converted to fine particulate matter once 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. Other health and environmental impacts from the pollutants addressed in this settlement include the following:

Sulfur Dioxide – High concentrations of SO2 affect breathing and may aggravate existing respiratory and cardiovascular disease. Sensitive populations include asthmatics, individuals with bronchitis or emphysema, children, and the elderly. Sulfur dioxide is also a primary contributor to acid deposition, or acid rain.

Particulate Matter – Short term exposure to particulate matter can aggravate lung disease, cause asthma attacks and acute bronchitis, may increase susceptibility to respiratory infections and has been linked to heart attacks.

Nitrogen Oxides – Nitrogen oxides can cause ground-level ozone, acid rain, particulate matter, global warming, water quality deterioration, and visual impairment. Nitrogen oxides play a major role, along with volatile organic chemicals, in the atmospheric reactions that produce ozone. Children, people with lung diseases such as asthma, and people who work or exercise outside are susceptible to adverse effects such as damage to lung tissue and reduction in lung function.

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Environmental Mitigation Projects

The proposed consent decree requires Columbian to spend $375,000 on projects to reduce PM emissions, such as installation of a new vacuum system with a high efficiency cartridge filter and installation of a high efficiency venturi scrubber on reactor. 

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Civil Penalty

Columbian will pay a total of $650,000 in civil penalties.

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Comment Period

The proposed settlement, lodged in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana, is subject to a 45-day public comment period and final court approval.  Information on submitting comments is available at the Department of Justice website.

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Contact Information

Patrick Foley (technical)
(202) 564-7978

Christopher Williams (technical)
(202) 564-7889

Kellie Ortega (legal)
(202) 564-5529

Air Enforcement Division
U. S. Environmental Protection Agency
1200 Pennsylvania Ave, NW, MC 2242A
Washington, DC 20460 mail or 20004 courier

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