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Troubled Croda chemical plant to restart amid community outcry

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Courtesy of Croda.com
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Some called for a Croda chemical plant to remain shut down—ahead of its restart Thursday after its latest permit violations.

The Croda chemical company manufactures surfactants at its facility in suburban New Castle. To do that, it produces ethylene oxide, a carcinogenic and explosive chemical that leaked from the plant in 2018.  

Croda’s ethylene oxide plantwill soon start up again after being shut down for several months due to permit violations. A stack test in January turned up even more violations—and the state settled with the company last month. 

Croda told the state Thursday it had introduced ethanol to the plant and expected to start producing ethylene oxide that night, according to a Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) spokesperson.

Croda has applied to revise a permit and agreed to make modifications to its plant. It’ll also pay a penalty and install an additional community siren.  

But New Castle County resident Willie Scott noted the company’s pattern of noncompliance during a public information session DNREC hosted Wednesday. 

“While it’s good to see that DNREC has applied additional conditions and requirements via the latest settlement, it remains to be seen how well Croda will manage those given its demonstrated performance in meeting existing requirements,” Scott said. “Permits are granted to Croda giving it permission to operate. And DNREC needs to define at what point the continued operation of this facility is no longer tenable.”

State Representative Frank Cooke (D-New Castle) argued the facility should not be starting up again. 

“I say shut it down until everything is met,” Cooke said. “I don’t believe in, let’s keep going and try to fix it in the future. I’ve heard ‘the future’ so many times today. I want to see something here and now.”

DNREC Secretary Shawn Garvin responded to the criticisms of the agency’s enforcement actions Wednesday. 

“We have statutes and regulations, and we have permits that are based on science and permit conditions, and we hold all the facilities in Delaware to those permits and those conditions,” Garvin said. “When they’re not meeting them, we take action to get them into compliance and hold them accountable.”

Robert Naylor, a resident of Carneys Point, New Jersey, which is located across the Delaware River from the Croda plant, requested that the company reimburse residents for air monitoring devices inside their homes. He also recommended continuous air monitoring at the plant, the results of which could be available online for residents to access in real time. 

“Your priorities are not necessarily the same as ours, from a community standpoint,” Naylor told Croda’s representative Wednesday. “Our priority is transparency.”

Chris Barnett, site director of Croda’s New Castle facility, apologized Wednesday that the stack test did not go “smoothly.” He said the safety of surrounding communities is the company’s highest priority.

“I want to make sure that people understand it is our priority to make sure we do meet our regulatory obligations,” Barnett said, “and even take on new obligations as we have to just to prove ourselves, which is, I think, what we’ve done with the settlement.” 

Barnett did not commit Croda to reimbursing residents for their air monitoring. 

Local residents and environmental justice advocates have called for better emergency notifications around the Atlas Point facility and community-controlled air monitoring since the 2018 leak. 

Croda is currently the subject of an attempted class-action lawsuit by a New Castle County resident who claims she and others are subject to increased risk of illness as a result of exposure to ethylene oxide over decades.

According to 2014 EPA data, residents in census tracts around the facility do bear an additional cancer risk because of the chemical. 

This story has been updated.

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