Carbon Black Emissions Settlement (US)

Settlement is reached resolving alleged violations in Louisiana and Texas of the New Source Review (NSR) provisions of the federal Clean Air Act (CAA). In the complaint filed by the Texas Department of Justice on behalf of the federal Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA), the government alleged a manufacturer made major modifications at its carbon black facilities between 2003 and 2009 without obtaining pre-construction permits and without installing and operating required pollution technology. The complaint further alleged that these actions resulted in increased emissions of NOx and SO2, violating CAA requirements that oblige companies to obtain the necessary permits prior to making modifications at a facility and to install and operate required pollution control equipment if those modifications will result in increases of certain pollutants.

The agreement (with the second largest carbon manufacturer in the US) is the first to result from a national enforcement initiative aimed at bringing carbon black manufacturers into compliance with the CAA’s NSR provisions. The settlement comprises a $975,000 civil penalty and an order to spend an estimated $84 million on state of the art technology to control harmful air pollution. The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality is a co-plaintiff in the case and will receive $292,500 of the penalty.

The USEPA Press Release on the matter is here.

Carbon black is described as a fine carbonaceous powder used as a structural support medium in tyres and as a pigment in a variety of products such as plastic, rubber, inkjet toner and cosmetics. It is produced by burning oil in a low oxygen environment; the oil is transformed into soot (carbon black), which is collected in a baghouse. The Press Release states because the oil used in the process is low value high sulfur oil, the manufacturing process creates significant amounts of SO2 and NOx, as well as particulate matter.

Per the USEPA Press Release – at all three facilities, the settlement obliges the carbon black manufacturer to optimise existing controls for particulate matter or soot, operate an “early warning” detection system that will alert facility operators to any particulate matter releases, and comply with a plan to control “fugitive emissions” which result from leaks or unintended releases of gases. To address nitrogen oxide (NOx) pollution, the company must install selective catalytic reduction technology to significantly reduce emissions, install continuous monitoring, and comply with stringent limits. At the two larger facilities in Louisiana, the company must address sulfur dioxide (SO2) pollution by installing wet gas scrubbers to control emissions, install continuous monitoring, and comply with stringent emissions limits. In addition, the Texas facility is required to comply with a limit on the amount of sulfur in feedstock which is the lowest for any carbon black plant in the US.

The settlement also requires $450,000 to be spent by the company on energy saving and pollution reduction projects that will benefit the communities surrounding the facilities in Franklin and Ville Platte, La. and in Pampa, Texas, such as upgrading air handling units at municipal buildings in the three communities to more efficient technology.

Since 2010, per its Press Release, the USEPA has been focusing enforcement efforts on reducing emissions at carbon manufacturing plants in the US. Currently, none of the 15 carbon black manufacturing plants located in the US have controls on emissions of SO2 and NOx or have continuous emissions monitors.