MONDAY, MARCH 13, 2000

(202) 514-2007


TDD (202) 514-1888


Case Part Of Federal Effort To Help Clean Up Mississippi River Basin

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Alcoa Inc., one of the world's largest aluminum producers, has agreed to pay $8.8 million as part of a Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act settlement the Justice Department and the Environmental Protection Agency announced today. The case, which is related to the company's Warrick County, Ind. facility, is part of a federal effort to help clean up the Mississippi River and its basin.

Under the terms of the settlement, Alcoa will pay a $2.4 million penalty; spend at least $5.4 million on a project to reduce the plant's generation of hazardous waste; and conduct a $1 million study of a new air pollution reduction technology. The settlement also requires that Alcoa treat its plant's wastewater with a new $5 million wastewater treatment system.

"The 'Mighty Mississippi' is part of our national heritage, and we have a responsibility to restore and protect it," said Lois J. Schiffer, Assistant Attorney General for Environment and Natural Resources at the Justice Department. "This settlement significantly reduces the amount of pollution that enters the Ohio River, one of the Mississippi's major tributaries, and should serve as a warning to others who would illegally pollute one of our nation's greatest treasures."

The Justice Department's lawsuit, filed together with the settlement today, alleges that Pittsburgh-based Alcoa violated multiple requirements of its Clean Water Act permit regulating discharges from the company's Warrick facility to the Ohio River. The complaint alleges that Alcoa illegally discharged inadequately-treated wastewater to the Ohio River from 1994 until 1999, while company-sponsored tests showed that the mixture of pollutants in the wastewater was deadly toxic to fish and invertebrates. The complaint also alleges that Alcoa exceeded Clean Air Act limits for opacity -- the amount of light obscured by particulates such as smoke, dust, and ash -- from six aluminum casting complex furnaces at the plant.

"Cases like this demonstrate that illegal air and water pollution continues to threaten the quality of our environment, despite the progress we've made since passage of the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act in the 1970s," said EPA Midwest Regional Administrator Francis X. Lyons. "Toxic discharges pose an especially grave risk to our Midwestern waters, one of our region's greatest resources."

The settlement requires fundamental changes in the way Alcoa operates its Warrick County facility, where the company makes aluminum sheet used in food and beverage containers. The plant's toxic wastewater will be neutralized by a new two-step treatment system before it is discharged to the Ohio River. The settlement provides that EPA may also require Alcoa to make other plant improvements as necessary to ensure the Warrick facility's future compliance with Clean Water Act requirements.

As part of a special hazardous waste-reduction project, the plant also is required to change metal treatment processes to reduce the generation of chromium-containing wastewater treatment sludge by 30% before June of next year, and by 65% before June of 2003. Alcoa must also test an alternate metal purification process to determine if it can eliminate the dense smoke emitted by its current process.

A notice of the settlement will be published in the Federal Register. Before it becomes final, the settlement must be approved by a United States District Judge for the Southern District of Indiana in Evansville.

In September 1998, Attorney General Janet Reno and EPA Administrator Carol Browner announced the Mississippi River Initiative, a comprehensive, coordinated effort to stop pollution of the River. Since then, criminal cases and investigations that impact the Mississippi River and its basin have been opened or have been concluded in 19 federal districts, and civil environmental enforcement cases have been commenced or successfully concluded in 16 federal districts. Active investigations are open in many more districts as part of the Mississippi River Initiative.