CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A Marshall County chemical plant has agreed to pay $450,000 for water quality violations that have continued even after West Virginia regulators entered into a pollution settlement with the operation nearly three years ago, state officials said this week.
The state Department of Environmental Protection said the former PPG Industries facility at Natrium already has paid $200,000 of the penalties and proposed a change in the July 2010 deal to include $250,000 more in fines, according to court records.
The DEP proposed the settlement just three months after the West Virginia Rivers Coalition threatened to sue the company, citing Clean Water Act violations that included excess discharges of pesticide contaminated groundwater, mercury, iron and several volatile organic compounds into the Ohio River.
In a court filing, DEP lawyers said the operation has "undertaken significant steps" to reduce its pollution, but "has experienced difficulty ensuring consistent compliance" with limits for certain toxic organic chloride chemicals.
Built in 1957, the former PPG plant is along the Ohio River just north of New Martinsville. Pittsburgh-based PPG sold the facility last year to Atlanta-based Georgia Gulf Corp., and it now operates under the name Eagle Natrium LLC.
For years, the facility has drawn strong criticism from environmental groups because it continues to use what those groups say is an outdated process to make chlorine by pumping salt water through vats of pure mercury. Most of the industry -- representing about 95 percent of U.S.-produced chlorine -- now uses a newer process that does not result in large mercury emissions into the air and nearby water supplies.
The new settlement focuses on groundwater contaminated by three forms of the chemical benzene hexachloride, BHC-alpha, BHC-beta, all constituents of the pesticide lindane. Federal regulators began phasing out lindane in the 1970s, and banned it altogether in 2002 because of concerns over its impacts on human health and the environment.
Lindane has not been manufactured at the Natrium facility since 1961, but groundwater at the site remains contaminated and the pollution is believed to be infiltrating sewer lines and causing water-discharge permit violations, court records show.