Dow Chemical/Union Carbide Corp. near Seadrift

Union Carbide Corp./Dow Chemical plant near Seadrift.

Union Carbide Corp. was hit with a $600,000 penalty for failure to prevent unauthorized, excessive emissions at its Seadrift facility, according to a settlement approved at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s last commissioners meeting.

Starting in March 2018, a leak on a condenser at the facility caused 44,254 pounds of ethylene oxide to be released from its episodic vent over the course of 219 days, documents from the state agency show.

Ethylene oxide is primarily used as an intermediate in the production of several industrial chemicals, as well as a fumigant in specific agricultural products and a sterilant for medical equipment and supplies.

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, acute exposure to the carcinogenic gas may result in respiratory irritation and lung injury, headache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, shortness of breath, and cyanosis. Chronic exposure has been associated with occurrence of cancer, reproductive effects, mutagenic changes, neurotoxicity and sensitization.

Union Carbide Corp. is a subsidiary of The Down Chemical Company. Ashley Mendoza, a spokesperson for Dow, said there “are no anticipated health risks associated” with the emissions event and there were no injuries.

“Some of the EO (ethylene oxide) was emitted from the cooling water system. However, air testing was conducted near the point where the cooling water entered the cooling water basin and there was no detection of EO (ethylene oxide) using current testing technology,” she said.

But TCEQ records say air quality analysis of the dispersion modeling that Union Carbide provided to TCEQ showed that individuals or the environment had been exposed to the pollutants at levels that exceeded protection of human health or the environment during the emissions event.

On the environmental, property and human health matrix scale included in the state’s penalty calculation, the event was listed as resulting in major, actual harm.

The facility was fined $25,000 per each week in violation, resulting in an $800,000 fine, TCEQ records show. That was reduced by $200,000 because the state said the facility made “good faith efforts to comply” by achieving compliance in February 2019, before a notice of enforcement was issued.

Union Carbide paid $300,000 of its fine and is offsetting the remaining $300,000 by donating that amount to the Texas Congress of Parents and Teachers for a supplemental environmental project as part of its settlement with the state, according to state records.

The contribution to Texas PTA will be used to purchase a 2010 or newer school bus to replace an older diesel school bus that meets less stringent emissions standards.

Other enforcements approved

Commissioners also approved a settlement between the state and the Port O’Connor Improvement District for six violations, including failing to prevent unauthorized discharge of waste water into or adjacent to state waters. The district was tasked with a $34,650 penalty, including $6,930 that will be deferred if certain conditions are met and $27,720 of which will be offset by a supplemental environmental project.

Mundine’s Materials & Trucking in Victoria received a $10,000 penalty for failing to renew its Aggregate Production Operations permit, according to a settlement approved by TCEQ commissioners. A total of $8,000 was paid for the violation, while $2,000 will be deferred upon compliance with the state’s order.

Kali Venable is an investigative and environmental reporter for the Victoria Advocate. She can be reached at 361-580-6558 or at kvenable@vicad.com.

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Investigative & Environmental Reporter

"I am a Houston native and 5th generation Texan, with a degree in journalism and minor in creative writing from the University of Texas at Austin. I care deeply about public interests and the community I serve.”

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