Toxic benzene and other harmful emissions will be drastically reduced in St. Charles Parish, Louisiana, thanks to a $10 million settlement between Shell Chemical LP and federal and state authorities who accused the chemical corporation of illegally discharging tons of air pollutants.
The settlement comes in the form of a consent decree requiring Shell Chemical to invest $10 million in the installation and operation of air pollution control and monitoring technology at the company’s Norco, Louisiana chemical plant. The equipment is expected to reduce annual benzene emissions by about 18 tons per year and other environmentally harmful volatile organic compounds by about 159 tons per year, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) jointly announced with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality.
Authorities said Shell Chemical’s violations of the federal Clean Air Act and state air pollution laws stemmed from its flaring practices at the Norco production facility’s four industrial flares. The flares burn benzene and waste gases that otherwise would be released to the atmosphere. Well-operated flares have high “combustion efficiency,” meaning they burn nearly all the benzene and other toxic components in the emissions, turning them into water and carbon dioxide.
Benzene and other volatile organic compounds produced by industrial operations are seriously harmful to the environment and public health. The pollutants are a key component in the formation of smog or ground-level ozone, which irritates the lungs, exacerbates diseases such as asthma, and can increase susceptibility to respiratory illnesses, such as pneumonia and bronchitis.
Chronic exposure to benzene, which EPA classifies as a carcinogen, can cause numerous health impacts, including leukemia and adverse reproductive effects in women.
According to federal and state prosecutors, the settlement requires Shell to take measures to minimize the amount of waste gas sent to the flares. Shell is also required to operate a flare gas recovery system at the facility, which recycles the waste gas and puts it to use within the facility.
High-tech monitoring and control technology at the flares will ensure that the flares at the Shell plant are operated at a high-combustion efficiency. Additional monitoring equipment will detect air pollution along the facility’s perimeter and the results of these air-quality tests will be published on a public website, the Justice Department said.