Packaging Corporation of America (PCA), headquartered in Illinois, has agreed to pay $2.5 million in civil penalties to resolve allegations that it violated the Clean Air Act's General Duty Clause and Risk Management Program Regulations at its containerboard production mill in DeRidder, Louisiana.
In the complaint, filed with the proposed settlement, the United States and the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ) allege nine Clean Air Act violations that stem, in part, from a fatal explosion and accidental release at the DeRidder mill on Feb. 8, 2017. The explosion - which killed three workers and injured seven others - launched a 100,000-gallon storage tank into the air and over a six-story building before it landed on mill equipment approximately 400 feet away. The blast also caused property damage and released extremely hazardous substances into the environment. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) inspected the DeRidder mill after the explosion, and uncovered additional Clean Air Act violations.
"PCA violated the Clean Air Act and accompanying regulations at its DeRidder mill, resulting in an explosion that caused the senseless deaths of three workers, while placing other workers and the surrounding community in danger," said Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department's Environmental and Natural Resources Division. "The department will continue enforcing environmental mandates to save lives and protect air quality -- especially against companies with a history of misconduct, like PCA."
"The Clean Air Act was created to provide guidelines for companies such as PCA to adhere to in order to keep our communities safe from hazardous substances," said U.S. Attorney Brandon Brown for the Western District of Louisiana. "Sadly, it took an explosion and the loss of lives to highlight PCA's failure to adhere to some of these guidelines. The Civil Division in the Western District of Louisiana has an important job and welcomes the opportunity to continue to work alongside our federal and local partners to ensure these laws are abided by."
"This case demonstrates the tragic impacts to human life and the environment that can result from failures to follow appropriate chemical accident prevention and preparation requirements," said Larry Starfield, Acting Assistant Administrator for EPA's Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. "This settlement both holds the Packaging Corporation of America accountable for failures that contributed to this accident and sends a clear message to corporations across the country on the importance of implementing appropriate chemical safety measures."
"This settlement holds Packaging Corporation of America accountable for the harm it has caused to the environment and to the individuals who lost their lives on Feb. 8, 2017," said Dr. Earthea Nance, EPA Region 6 Administrator. "Legal action will be pursued for companies who fail to safeguard their workers' well-being. We offer our condolences for all individuals affected by this tragedy."
"We join with our federal partners in taking action to ensure that this tragic occurrence is properly addressed," said Dr. Chuck Carr Brown, LDEQ Secretary. "Those responsible must be held accountable."
Section 112(r) of the Clean Air Act and its accompanying regulations are designed to prevent the accidental release of hazardous substances, like those at the DeRidder mill. Congress added section 112(r) in response to the 1984 catastrophic release of methyl isocyanate in Bhopal, India, that killed more than 3,400 people and injured more than 200,000 others. Under the Clean Air Act, facilities like PCA's are required to identify hazards, design and maintain a safe facility, minimize the consequences of accidental releases that do occur, and comply with regulatory prevention measures. Failing to comply with these requirements increases the risk of accidents and threatens surrounding communities.
Reducing the risk to human health and the environment by decreasing the likelihood of chemical accidents at chemical facilities is a top priority for EPA's enforcement and compliance assurance program.
The proposed stipulation of settlement is subject to a 45-day public comment period and court review and approval. A copy of the stipulation of settlement is available on the Department of Justice website at www.justice.gov/enrd/Consent_Decrees.html.