A controversial chemical plant in New Castle has violated its air pollution limits again.
A plant at the Croda facility in New Castle leaked massive amounts of the explosive and carcinogenic chemical ethylene oxide in 2018, causing a temporary shutdown of the Delaware Memorial Bridge. The company’s New Castle facility is also the subject of a federal chemical exposure suit filed this year.
State environmental regulators found additional violations at the plant this fall.
The Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) learned after a stack test in September that Croda had exceeded its annual emission limit for ethylene oxide at an air pollution scrubber, and that the scrubber had failed to reduce volatile organic compound emissions by at least 95 percent. Croda also routed an unpermitted source into an air pollution scrubber and operated an unpermitted source of ethylene oxide at a part of the plant known as a hotwell, which environmental regulators say condenses vapors from the purification and distillation of crude ethylene glycol.
State Representative Larry Lambert has been an outspoken critic of Croda since the 2018 leak.
“At this point, we’re looking at a full-blown pattern,” Lambert said Friday, after learning about the latest violations. “It appears that it may very well be how they conduct business.”
Lambert sees this as the last strike.
“This is really the last time that it’s really acceptable to have any kind of violations like this,” he said. “I’m looking forward to DNREC and the state of Delaware taking the necessary steps to ensure that this pattern doesn’t continue.”
DNREC says the ethylene oxide plant has not operated since the date of the test.
DNREC included several action items in the Notice of Violations hand delivered to Croda Nov. 11. The state agency is requiring Croda to obtain a permit for the unpermitted equipment and submit documentation of emissions “for all chemical species” by mid-January.
DNREC has advised Croda that further operation of the ethylene oxide plant at the New Castle facility for a purpose other than demonstrating compliance with permit limits would be viewed as a “flagrant violation.”
DNREC will hold a virtual information session on the “path forward” for the plant Thursday.
The federal lawsuit filed against Croda in August is over the company’s emissions of ethylene oxide in New Castle.
The plaintiff, New Castle County resident Catherine Baker, is seeking class-action status. She claims residents near Croda’s Altas Point facility along Route 9 are subject to increased risk of illness as a result of exposure to the chemical over decades. She is seeking monetary damages, including the cost of medical monitoring. Croda is attempting to get the case dismissed.
The suit came after members of Delaware’s Congressional Delegation urged the EPA to alert New Castle-area residents of the health risks of exposure to ethylene oxide from Croda, following an EPA Inspector General report flagging the issue this spring.