Erie Coke Corp. faces $500,000 fine for benzene violations

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GreenGavelBy Natasha Blakely

Erie Coke Corp. has agreed to pay a $500,000 civil fine for illegal emission of benzene at its Erie, Pennsylvania, plant under a
tentative settlement with the Environmental Protection Agency.

The EPA sued the company for Clean Air Act violations discovered during inspections of a foundry coke manufacturing facility. A public comment period on the proposed settlement ended Friday.

Erie Coke at that facility produces foundry coke to make iron and iron products. Benzene is a waste product that comes from making that coke.

Consistent exposure to benzene has been linked to cancer, particularly leukemia, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Benzene is colorless and evaporates quickly so it can be hard to detect once in the air. Forms of benzene are found in many common items such as plastics, lubricants, pesticides and gasoline.

The EPA suit claims that the company “failed to minimize leaks of benzene “on a continuous basis since at least November 2010 and failed to report information such as all potential sources of benzene emissions.images153

Other claims include failure to repair equipment leaks within the legally required time limit.

The initial discoveries were made in 2010, and this suit is a continuation of that investigation, said Roy Seneca, a media contact for the EPA Region 3 office, which covers Pennsylvania.

Earlier enforcement action was taken in a 2010 consent decree that included a $6 million penalty, Seneca said.

“Although the violations may date from certain times,” Seneca said, “EPA did not identify them until sometime later. The EPA investigation has been ongoing for several years, and parts for the settlement were not completed until recently.”

Under the Clean Air Act, Erie Coke can be fined up to $37,500 per day for each violation. The proposed consent decree sets the amount at $500,000.

In a press release, the company said some of the allegations were true but have been rectified. The company also described a new “Enhanced Leak Detection and Repair Program” it will implement that will maintain lower detection levels of benzene than are required by law for a limited period.

The company did not respond to requests for additional comment on the settlement or any of the allegations.

After the comment period, U.S. Judge Barbara Rothstein will review the consent decree and comments.

She will decide then whether to make the settlement final and enforceable, said Wyn Hornbuckle, deputy director at the Department of Justice’s Office of Public Affairs in Washington.

The public can send comments to the Justice Department trial attorney, Elliot Rockler, at P.O. Box 7611, Washington, D.C. 20044-7611 or call him at (202) 514-2653.

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