Formosa Plastics Corp. in Point Comfort was fined $333,638 for air quality violations including unauthorized release of carcinogens.
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality approved the fines during a Wednesday meeting after documenting eight air violations during inspections conducted between 2012 and 2019, according to state records.
Neil Carman, the Sierra Club Lone Star Chapter’s clean air director, said TCEQ appears to have downplayed the penalty violations by lumping them together, instead of holding Formosa accountable for each individual violation. Carman spent 12 years in TCEQ’s enforcement division as a field inspector.
“They don’t really consider all of the violations. It’s been a general pattern over a long time. I saw it when I was at the agency, and I’ve seen it since then,” he said. “There is no doubt in my mind, reading through these eight violations, that there are more than one in most of them.”
During five emission events between 2012-2019, TCEQ found that Formosa failed to prevent unauthorized air emissions that could have been avoided by better operational and maintenance practices, state records show.
Unauthorized emissions include a total of 4,546.1 pounds of vinyl chloride, a colorless, highly flammable gas that is used to make plastic and vinyl products, state records show.
The chemical is classified as a Group A human carcinogen by the Environmental Protection Agency and associated with an increased risk of developing liver cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Unauthorized releases of other harmful pollutants included 349.87 pounds of volatile organic compounds, 69.45 pounds of ethylene dichloride, 68.40 pounds of hydrochloric acid, 46.43 pounds of carbon monoxide and 8.20 pounds of nitrogen oxides, according to state records.
Formosa was also penalized for failing to submit a final record for a reportable emissions event by the required deadline and failing to comply with maximum allowable emissions rates.
Formosa exceeded the maximum allowable emission rate for particulate matter for a total of 64,056 hours — the equivalent of more than seven years — resulting in unauthorized release of 16,929 pounds of particulate matter from 2012-2019. The facility has since obtained a permit amendment that increases its maximum allowable emissions rate for particulate matter.
The facility also exceeded the maximum allowable emissions rate for carbon monoxide for about 40 days in 2013, resulting in unauthorized release of 2,112 pounds of carbon monoxide.
From 2018-2019, Formosa exceeded the maximum allowable emissions rate for volatile organic compounds released from a cooling tower for a total of about 60 days, resulting in the unauthorized release of 5.1 tons of volatile organic compounds, according to state records.
Formosa paid $133,456 of the penalty for the violations and got $66,727 deferred.
Steve Marwitz, a spokesman for Formosa’s Point Comfort facility, said Formosa had no comment on the violations.
He did note that Formosa asked to offset the penalty by directing the remaining $133,455 of TCEQ fines toward an environmental project.
The funds will be used by the Texas Natural Gas Foundation to reimburse an eligible public entity, such as a municipality or school district, for the purchase or five-year lease of an alternative-fueled vehicle that will replace an older, diesel-fueled vehicle.
Carman said the penalties TCEQ assessed are “like a traffic ticket” for Formosa, which has a long history of environmental violations.
Formosa holds a “high priority violation” status with the EPA under the Clean Air Act and has paid a total of $98,876 in penalties for air pollution during the last five years, according to the federal agency. The facility’s compliance history with the state is marked by several air quality violations although TCEQ classifies its compliance history as satisfactory.
“This tends to be what the TCEQ does, kind of a slap on the wrist for Formosa Plastics,” Carman said. “A lot of this stuff is unacceptable, and the fines should have been at least ten times that much when we’re talking about highly toxic, carcinogenic chemicals.”