The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is suing Erie Coke Corp., a merchant producer of foundry coke, over benzene pollution at a plant in Pennsylvania.
According to the EPA, benzene leaks had still not been fixed, despite a previous lawsuit by the agency and the state Department of Environmental Protection regarding a similar issue of pollution. The company and both agencies completed two consent decrees that required Erie Coke Corp. to fix the pollution issues.
Under obligation to the consent decrees, the company invested $15 million on plant improvements, and shelled out over $4 million in fines. However, upon inspection by the EPA in March of 2015, benzene leaks had still not been curtailed.
Benzene is a chemical widely used in a number of industries and products, and is also a known carcinogen. Exposure has been linked to a number of life-threatening diseases including Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML), Myelodysplastic Syndrome (MDS), lymphomas and aplastic anemia.
Exposure to benzene is most often through inhalation, but the chemical can also be absorbed through the skin. Once the chemical enters the bloodstream, it affects the bone marrow and blood forming cells, which can lead to blood diseases and cancers. On-the-job exposure is particularly dangerous because workers are likely exposed at much higher levels for longer periods of time, leading to an elevated risk of developing benzene-related illnesses and injuries.
The EPA has claimed that Erie Coke Corp. has “continuously failed to identify potential sources of benzene emissions” and is violating the Clean Air Act by not handling the benzene leak issue. The agency has requested a judge to fine $37,500 a day for each violation until the issue is resolved.