FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASEENRD
THURSDAY, OCTOBER 26, 2000(202) 514-2008
WWW.USDOJ.GOVTDD (202) 514-1888
U.S., MISSISSIPPI REACH ENVIRONMENTAL
AGREEMENTS WITH MORTON INT'L $20 Million Penalty is Largest-Ever Civil Fine for Environmental Violations at One Factory
WASHINGTON, D.C. - Morton International Inc. will resolve charges the chemical company violated several environmental laws at its Moss Point, Miss., facility under a civil settlement and criminal plea agreement announced today by the United States and Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ).
Morton, a wholly owned subsidiary of Rohm and Haas Company based in Philadelphia, has agreed to pay a $20 million civil penalty that will be divided equally between the United States and Mississippi under the settlement filed today in U.S. District Court in Biloxi. This penalty marks the largest-ever civil fine for environmental violations at a single facility.
The civil settlement, filed by the Justice Department on behalf of the EPA and the MDEQ, resolves claims the company violated clean air, clean water and hazardous waste laws. The agreement also obligates Morton to perform $16 million worth of projects to enhance the environment, and it requires a third-party environmental audit of all 23 chemical facilities owned by Rohm and Haas in the United States. Under the settlement, Morton also will complete a comprehensive assessment of the Moss Point facility, determine whether corrective measures are needed to address pollution, and undertake any necessary measures.
In a separate action today, Morton pleaded guilty to criminal violations of the Clean Water Act and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. Under a plea agreement, Morton has agreed to pay a $2 million criminal penalty for these violations.
"After investigators uncovered criminal behavior, the company worked with us to achieve a far-reaching agreement that is certain to improve the natural environment both in this Mississippi community and every place Rohm and Haas operates a chemical plant in the United States," said Lois J. Schiffer, Assistant Attorney General in charge of the environment at the Justice Department.
Morton produces plasticizers, synthetic rubber, rocket polymers, and other chemicals and adhesives at its facility in Jackson County, near the Escatawpa River. In 1996, an EPA inspector conducting an evaluation of the facility discovered what appeared to be falsified reports submitted to the MDEQ. Factories with permits issued under the Clean Water Act must periodically file these monitoring reports with regulators, indicating the types and amounts of pollutants they are discharging.
The EPA Criminal Investigation Division in Jackson and the FBI investigated the falsification of Morton's discharge monitoring reports. In February 2000, Morton's former environmental manager, Joe Magazzu, admitted that he falsified the reports and pleaded guilty to a felony Clean Water Act charge. The criminal investigation also led to the corporation's guilty plea today in Biloxi.
"Besides falsifying data about its discharges of pollution, Morton also committed numerous civil violations of the clean air, clean water, and hazardous waste regulations," said John H. Hankinson, Jr., EPA's Regional Administrator for the Southeast. "Beyond the record penalty, we are requiring the company to make sure it is complying with every environmental law at all of its facilities nationwide. This joint enforcement action by the federal government and the State of Mississippi will protect the public and the environment, in Moss Point and across the country."
The discovery of the falsified reports prompted the EPA and the MDEQ to launch a joint investigation of the entire Moss Point facility, examining the company's compliance with several state and federal environmental laws. This investigation revealed numerous civil violations of clean air, clean water, hazardous waste and other laws. These civil claims, described below, are settled in the consent decree lodged today in Biloxi.
The agencies found that Morton was disposing of several kinds of hazardous waste at its on-site landfill without a specific permit issued under the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. These materials included waste ash, sludge, toluene and other hazardous wastes. In addition, regulators determined that Morton was disposing of hazardous wastes in deep injection wells, violating the facility's underground injection facilities permit. Those hazardous wastes include toluene and methyl ethyl ketone, as well as other hazardous wastes.
Under federal law, a company that releases a specified amount of a hazardous substance into the environment is required to immediately notify the National Response Center. However, although Morton disposed of hazardous wastes into its landfill and injection wells on numerous occasions, the company failed to report these releases to the NRC, in violation of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act.
The company is also alleged to have violated the federal law that requires companies to report to the EPA each time they produce or release toxic chemicals in excess of an amount specified in the statute, the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act. On several occasions between 1993 and 1995, Morton was found to have released methanol, methyl ethyl ketone, and toluene into the air and soil.
The United States and Mississippi also alleged that the Moss Point facility violated the Clear Air Act by building and operating a new boiler - increasing the amount of air pollution emitted - without first obtaining a permit. Mississippi's state implementation plan under the Act requires that any new or significantly modified facility must have a permit before it begins operating.
The EPA and the MDEQ also determined that Morton had chronically violated the terms of its Clean Water Act permit, from 1991 to 1996, discharging excessive amounts of pollutants into the Escatawpa River.
"This cooperation between MDEQ, EPA, and the Department of Justice demonstrates our commitment to protect the citizens of the state of Mississippi and our resources of land, air, and water from willful environmental violators, regardless of where they live," said Charles Chisolm, Executive Director of the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality. "The settlement provides millions of dollars of assistance to the Moss Point community to further improve its environmental and community health."