kler system and sending employees scrambling for emergency breathing apparatus. This violation was never reported and DNR learned about it only from an anonymous tip. DNR quickly issued an emergency order revoking all of Formosa’s permits, effectively shutting down the Delaware City facility. A subsequent DNR investigation discovered 40 separate illegal releases of vinyl chloride gas, repeated failures in the plant’s emissions monitoring system, and chronic violations of wastewater discharge permits. Formosa challenged DNR’s authority to revoke its permits, but a state court defended the department’s action, citing “an almost complete disregard by Formosa of the state’s environmental regulations.” As a result, the plant remained closed for six weeks, until the state certified that a series of court-ordered repairs and improvements were completed. EPA records demonstrate that Formosa’s Baton Rouge, La. facility is an even more egregious polluter. In 1989, the Environdata indicating the plant’s operations pose a cancer risk of one case in 10,000 to residents of the area. This figure is 100 times the acceptable risk level defined by the federal government. According to the Houston Chronicle, a “line failure” at the plant on May 30, 1986 released 1,446 pounds of vinyl chloride, 902 pounds of hydrochloric acid and 337 pounds of ethylene dichloride, a highly toxic carcinogen and mutagen. In June of that year, according to the Chronicle, a ruptured line released nearly 8,000 pounds of vinyl chloride gas which formed a visible chemical cloud that was spotted creeping toward the Mississippi River. In both 1987 and 1988, the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality levied large fines against Formosa for a series of vinyl chloride releases dating back to 1983. Perhaps more serious than the Baton Rouge facility’s air discharges, however, are its groundwater problems. “Louisiana documents say Formosa’s spills of ethylene dichloride have penetrated the plant’s untreated concrete, sinking into the ground perhaps toward Baton Rouge’s underground water supply,” the Chronicle reported in 1989. “Reports from monitoring wells drilled at the Formosa site show that at 58 feet, the concentration of ethylene dichloride is 6,175 parts per million. To make that water safe by Texas standards, you’d have to dilute a liter a little less than a quart with 23,000 gallons of water.” Formosa officials insisted that the groundwater pollution existed when the company bought the site and disputed charges that Formosa was responsible. Messing with Texas Formosa is hardly an unknown quantity to Texas regulators. Since 1980, the company has operated a relatively small polyvinyl While Formosa contends it runs a clean op eration in Texas, its regulatory record belies that claim. On Dec. 13, 1990, EPA fined Formosa $125,000 for over 30 violations of the Clean Water Act. The EPA consent order charged Formosa with failing to notify the agency of three alterations to its ethylene dichloride plant and exceeding its permit limits for effluent discharges over 30 times between January 1986 and February 1990. The fine was the maximum administrative penalty authorized under the Clean Water Act. Last October, the EPA announced it would seek a record $8.3 million fine against Formosa’s Point Comfort operation, charging the company, in effect, with operating a hazardous waste dump without a permit. An EPA complaint cited dozens of discharges of ethylene dichloride and other toxic chemicals at the facility dating back to February 1983. Formosa fought the penalty, saying the issues raised by the EPA were the same ones listed in a 1987 complaint that was dismissed “without prejudice,” meaning the charges could be refiled later. In February of this year, however, Formosa came to terms with the EPA, agreeing to pay a $3.375 million penalty, the largest hazardous waste fine ever assessed by the agency. The settlement also called for Formosa to set up a $1 million trust fund for. “environmental education” in Calhoun County. In June 1990, Formosa was hit with another record-breaking fine, this time from the Texas judgment, the largest water pollution fine in Texas history, covered 17 violations over a four-year period. A 33-page report released by the commission cited infractions ranging from the dumping of oxygen-robbing wastewater in excess of permitted levels, to allowing ethylene dichloride-contaminated stormwater runoff to percolate into the groundwater. TWC also reported that Cox RICHARD BARTHOLOMEW Creek, a dammed waterway that receives 1.4 million gallons of wastewater discharge per day from Formosa and had once supported largemouth bass, minnows and sunfish, was completely devoid of aquatic life. A Formosa spokesman disputed the finding, telling the Houston Chronicle he had personally seen minnows in the creek. Between 1983 and March 1990, Formosa’s Point Comfort plant was cited for at least 12 violations of the Clean Air Act, paying fines ranging from $2,700 to $66,000. During the same period, the company racked up at least eight violations of the Texas Solid/Hazardous Waste Law, and three violations of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. $ 1 ,000 a Gramm Despite Formosa’s environmental transgressions, Texas politicians practically begged Chairman Wang to expand the company’s operations at Point Comfort. Those involved in the negotiations admit that the only environmental issue raised was how quickly state and federal regulators could process Formosa’s discharge permits. According to Texas Monthly, responsibility for ensuring expedient handling of Formosa’s EPA permits fell to Sen. Phil Gramm. Gramm’s efforts proved remarkably successful, as the EPA promised it would push the permits through in just eight months less than half the usual time provided there was no demand for an environmental impact’ statement. Last fall, the Houston Chronicle discovered another link in the Gramm-Formosa-EPA chain. Just two weeks after the EPA proposed its record $8.3 million fine against Formosa, four individuals with close ties to the company contributed the legal limit of $1,000 to Gramm’s reelection campaign. The donations triggered immediate suspicion since Bob THE TEXAS OBSERVER 5
You May Also Like
The documentary in Falfurrias is sinister and spiritual.