Benzene Violations Targeted in Environmental Enforcement Actions

[EPA press release - August 5, 1992]

The Department of Justice and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today announced a series of enforcement actions against violators of environmental standards designed to protect human health from the hazards of benzene, a Class A or "known" carcinogen. DOJ and EPA filed and/or announced settlements of nine actions against defendants in a cross-section of industries under the Clean Air Act (CAA) and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA).

On behalf of EPA, DOJ lodged two civil judicial settlements against steel and petroleum companies for penalties totaling $1,300,000, while EPA filed seven administrative actions against chemical and petroleum companies for over $650,000 in penalties.

The civil judicial enforcement actions filed by DOJ cite violations of EPA's benzene National Emissions Standard for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP) under Section 112 of the Clean Air Act. One settlement provides for $1,000,000 in penalties to be paid by Chevron U.S.A. for violations at its Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, petroleum refinery. This action was prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Philadelphia in conjunction with attorneys from the Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division. The other settlement requires $300,000 in penalties filed against Monesson Inc./Sharon Steel Corp. for violations at a coke by-product recovery plant in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania. This matter was resolved prior to litigation and the settlement was lodged today along with the filing of the action. The Chevron refinery also was cited by EPA in an administrative penalty action for violating an equipment monitoring requirement.

"These cases exemplify EPA's commitment to vigorous enforcement of the nation's environmental laws to protect the public from hazardous pollutants," according to EPA Administrator William K. Reilly.

Vicki O'Meara, Acting Assistant Attorney General for DOJ's Environment and Natural Resources Division said, "The DOJ has vigorously pursued these benzene enforcement actions. Today's consent decrees reflect the Department's commitment to work with EPA in focusing our enforcement resources on cases involving pollutants which pose the greatest threat to public health and the environment."

In addition to the EPA administrative action under the CAA (cited above), the Agency has filed another 5 administrative enforcement actions under RCRA for alleged violations of standards designed to detect and eliminate petroleum leaks from underground storage tanks (benzene is a constituent of gasoline). EPA filed leak-prevention actions against two Shell Oil Co. gasoline stations in Washington, D.C., and two BP Exploration & Oil Co. gasoline stations in Parkersburg, West Virginia. EPA also filed an enforcement action seeking a civil penalty against Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, for failure to implement UST leak detection methods at the Greater Pittsburgh International Airport.

Another administrative complaint seeking penalties totaling $596,085 has been filed against BP Chemicals Inc., in Lima, Ohio, for violating its RCRA hazardous waste treatment, storage, and disposal permit requirements relating to corrective action for any actual or potential releases of hazardous wastes or constituents, including benzene-containing wastes. EPA alleges that BP violated permit conditions by failing to submit to the Agency documents essential to evaluating the nature and extent of contamination at the site.

EPA selected benzene as the target of this enforcement initiative based upon its 1990 Toxics Release Inventory, which ranked benzene fifth among carcinogens in terms of total pounds released to the environment. The Agency's multi-media enforcement initiatives are designed to provide greater leverage to respond to specific priority pollutants. Although benzene is a naturally occurring substance produced by volcanoes and forest fires, its primary source is industrial operations using the chemical to manufacture other chemicals, plastics, detergents, pesticides, and gasoline.