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The Dow Chemical Company, Performance Materials NA, Inc, and Union Carbide Corporation Clean Air Act Settlement

(Washington, D.C. – January 27, 2021) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Justice and the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ) announced a settlement with Dow Chemical Company and two subsidiaries, Performance Materials NA Inc. and Union Carbide Corporation, that will eliminate thousands of tons of air pollution from four of Dow’s petrochemical manufacturing facilities in Texas and Louisiana.

Overview of Company

The owners and/or operators of the four plants subject to this settlement are The Dow Chemical Company and its subsidiaries, Performance Materials NA, Inc, and Union Carbide Corporation (collectively “Dow”). The Dow Chemical Company is a publicly traded company headquartered in Midland, Michigan.

The settlement involves the reduction of air pollution from petrochemical and chemical flares. A flare is a mechanical device, ordinarily elevated high off the ground, used to combust waste gases.

The State of Louisiana joined the settlement as a co-plaintiff with the United States. 

The settlement covers 26 Dow flares at four facilities located in: Freeport, Texas; Hahnville, Louisiana; Orange, Texas; and Plaquemine, Louisiana. The four facilities include two principle types of chemical plants: 

  • Olefins Plants. The primary products of these plants are ethylene and propylene, both of which are olefins. Ethylene is a feedstock for the production of consumer plastic products such as garbage bags, bread wrappers, packaging, and wire insulation. Propylene is also a feedstock used to produce products such as carpet, upholstery, boats, and car parts. 
  • Polymer Plants. The primary products of these plants are different grades of polyethylene, a polymer. Polyethylene is the feedstock for the production of consumer products such as food containers/packaging, carpet backing, diapers, pipe, truck bed liners, and shipping crates. Polyethylene is the most common plastic in the world.

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The complaint alleges violations of Clean Air Act requirements at Dow’s flares that resulted in excess emissions of pollutants, including volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and various hazardous air pollutants (HAPs) including benzene. The allegations include violations of:

  • New Source Review/Prevention of Significant Deterioration (NSR/PSD) and Minor New Source Review, 40 C.F.R. Parts 51 and 52
  • New Source Performance Standards (NSPS), 40 C.F.R. Part 60, Subparts A, Kb, DDD and NNN.
  • National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP), 40 C.F.R. Part 61, Subparts A and FF.
  • NESHAP, 40 C.F.R. Part 63, Subparts A, F, G, H, Y, SS, XX, YY, and FFFF.
  • Title V and the Title V permits at Dow’s facilities.
  • Texas and Louisiana State Implementation Plan (SIP) requirements.

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Injunctive Relief

The consent decree requires the following actions to resolve the CAA claims:

  • Submit and implement waste gas minimization plans which are detailed plans for reducing waste gas to flares. 
  • Undertake a root cause analysis and implement corrective action for “reportable flaring incidents” (i.e., greater than 500,000 standard cubic feet per day waste gas flow above baseload flows).
  • Install new flare gas recovery systems at each facility. The systems will recover and “recycle” the gases instead of sending them to be combusted in a flare. The flare gas recovery systems will allow Dow to reuse these gases as a fuel at its facilities or a product for sale. The systems will have the following minimum capacities: Freeport, Texas, 7.2 million standard cubic feet (mscf) per day; Hahnville, Louisiana, 10.08 mscf/day; Orange, Texas, 2.88 mscf/day; and Plaquemine, Louisiana, 14.4 mscf/day.
  • The above flare gas recovery systems will be required to be available for operation a high percentage of time.
  • Install and operate flare monitoring and control equipment in order to assure high combustion efficiency at all flares subject to the settlement.

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Pollutant Impacts

  • Nitrogen Oxides – Nitrogen oxides can cause ground-level ozone, acid rain, particulate matter, global warming, water quality deterioration, and visual impairment. Nitrogen oxides play a major role, with volatile organic chemicals, in the atmospheric reactions that produce ozone.  Children, people with lung diseases such as asthma, and people who work or exercise outside are susceptible to adverse effects such as damage to lung tissue and reduction in lung function.
  • Volatile Organic Compounds - VOCs, along with NOx, play a major role in the atmospheric reactions that produce ozone, which is the primary constituent of smog.  People with lung disease, children, older adults, and people who are active can be affected when ozone levels are unhealthy. Ground-level ozone exposure is linked to a variety of short-term health problems, including lung irritation and difficulty breathing, as well as long-term problems, such as permanent lung damage from repeated exposure, aggravated asthma, reduced lung capacity, and increased susceptibility to respiratory illnesses such as pneumonia and bronchitis.
  • Benzene - Acute (short-term) inhalation exposure of humans to benzene may cause drowsiness, dizziness, headaches, as well as eye, skin, and respiratory tract irritation, and, at high levels, unconsciousness.  Chronic (long-term) inhalation exposure has caused various disorders in the blood, including reduced numbers of red blood cells and anemia in occupational settings.  Reproductive effects have been reported for women exposed by inhalation to high levels, and adverse effects on the developing fetus have been observed in animal tests.  Increased incidences of leukemia have been observed in humans occupationally exposed to benzene.  EPA has classified benzene as a Group A human carcinogen.
  • Particulate Matter – PM, especially fine particles, contain microscopic solids or liquid droplets that are so small that they can get deep into the lungs and cause serious health problems. PM is linked to a variety of problems, including increased respiratory symptoms such as irritation of the airways, coughing, or difficulty breathing, decreased lung function, aggravated asthma, and premature death in people with heart or lung disease.

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Health Effects and Environmental Benefits

When fully implemented, the new controls and requirements under the consent decree are estimated to reduce emissions as follows:

  • VOCs by 5,689 tons per year (tpy)
  • Hazardous Air Pollutants by 480 tpy
  • Nitrogen Oxides by 127 tpy
  • Unquantifiable reductions of particulate matter.

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Civil Penalty

  • Dow will pay a civil penalty of $3 million with $2.325 going to the U.S., and $675,000 going to Louisiana.

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Comment Period

The proposed settlement, lodged in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval.   Information on submitting comment is available at the Department of Justice.

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Contact Information

Robert Parrish 
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (2242A) 
1200 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W. 
Washington, DC 20460-0001 
(202) 564-6946

Patrick W. Foley 
Senior Environmental Engineer 
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (2242A) 
1200 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W. 
Washington, DC 20460-0001 
(202) 564-7978

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