PCS Nitrogen to cut emissions from Geismar plant

PCS Nitrogen has agreed to reduce air emissions from phosphoric acid production at its Geismar plant.

The decision came as part of a settlement in a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality. EPA and DEQ alleged that PCS Nitrogen Fertilizer LP violated the Clean Air Act by introducing phosphoric acid scrubber effluent into its cooling towers.

Warren Stroman, the general manager at the Geismar plant, said Thursday the company decided to settle the suit by agreeing to reduce emissions and pay a fine, rather than continuing toward trial.

“While Potash (Corp., the plant’s parent company) does not believe either the fine or modifications are warranted, they have chosen to accept them rather than pursue litigation,” Stroman said.

EPA officials said in a news release the plant’s modifications will prevent the annual release of 15 million pounds of hydrogen fluoride, a hazardous air pollutant that is a byproduct of phosphoric acid production.

Stroman said the modifications will be completed by the end of the year. In addition, PCS Nitrogen will pay a fine of $198,825.

“Reducing pollution from mining and mineral processing operations is one of EPA’s national enforcement initiatives because these facilities release more toxic chemicals than any other sector,” Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, said in a news release. “This settlement will reduce millions of pounds of hazardous air pollutants, ensuring that the residents of Geismar, La., have cleaner air.”

Stroman, however, said he was “totally surprised” and “very confused” by EPA’s claims that PCS Nitrogen will prevent the release of 15 million pounds of hydrogen fluoride. The company doesn’t “necessarily agree” the reduction will be that much, he said.

“We’re unable to confirm the government’s statement about the amount,” Stroman said. “It appeared to be based on a misunderstanding of our processes. We believe it’s much lower than the amount the government suggests will be controlled by the settlement.”

The Geismar facility not only produces phosphoric acid but also manufactures nitrogen solutions, phosphate fertilizer and other industrial products, according to the company’s website.

EPA and DEQ had cited PCS Nitrogen for failure to comply with the national emissions standards, allowing “uncontrolled and excess emissions of fluorides” from the cooling towers, according to EPA’s website.

The settlement between the parties requires PCS Nitrogen to disable two pre-scrubber elements discharging into the cooling tower, which was completed as of Dec. 20, 2013. The plant also has until Dec. 31 to remove and demolish the piping and pumps used to convey scrubbing water to the cooling tower.