Alert 651: EPA settles with Invista over DuPont environmental violations

Federal government says Invista, after cleanup, will kill 30 fewer people per year.

In 2004, Koch Industries bought DuPont’s  Textiles & Interiors business, a big chunk of DuPont and formerly one of DuPont’s central business units.  Koch merged The DuPont acquistions with its existing KoSa fibers business to create Invista.  Invista then began an “audit” program in cooperation with the US Environmental Protection Agency.  From an April 13, 2009  US Department of Justice Press Release:  “The company disclosed more than 680 violations of water, air, hazardous waste, emergency planning and preparedness, and pesticide regulations to EPA after auditing 12 facilities it acquired from DuPont in 2004”

“Less than a month after the sale, Invista claims it discovered serious environmental hazards and public health risks, and as a result of these findings they have now has filed suit for $800 million.  Among the first finds was the benzene treatment unit which the lawsuit claims DuPont had operated illegally since 2000.”

“According to the lawsuit, Invista had to act swiftly and report the violations and avoid criminal prosecution. …. Invista has filed suit in the U. S. District Court Southern District of New York which also seeks punitive damages “because DuPont knew of several of the more dangerous safety and environmental violations, knew those violations placed its workers and the public at risk, took no action to rectify them, and failed to disclose them to Invista.” Read more

In March, the court refused to toss out this lawsuit.

One of the DuPont facilities sold to Koch was the 750 acre Seaford Nylon Plant, world’s first nylon-spinning plant, polluting Sussex County, Delaware, since 1938.  For instance, the plant burns coal and in 2001 reported discharging into the air 130 pounds of the neurotoxin mercury, more than Indian River or Edge Moor power plants reported (Indian River was under-reporting).  Total “Toxic Release Inventory” on-site releases for that year were 469,000 pounds.  For 2005, the total was 602,000 pounds.  By 2007, the amounts reported had increased to 764,000 pounds.  Careless disposal of coal ash on the site has contaminated groundwater with arsenic, carbon tetrachloride, and other toxic chemicals.

The US Deparment of Justice, on behalf of  EPA, has filed a complaint and a 71 page proposed consent decree alleging violations of the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and other major environmental laws.  Getting in on the action, the Delaware DNREC has filed a parallel complaint.  The Federal consent decree with be subject to a 30 day public comment period.

The consent decree requires Invista to pay $850,000 to the US Treasury and $500,000 to DNREC, as well as smaller amounts to South Carolina and

Invista is also required to make emission reductions at several plants, including Seaford.  However, the site could still be a major polluter.  For example “The 12-Month Rolling Tonnage from Seaford Boilers 1 and 3 under this Option shall not exceed 598 tons of NOx and 1446 tons of SO2.” (page 13).  Thus, these boilers could continue to burn coal and put out over four million pounds per year of health-damaging pollutants. (Invista has applied for permits to stop burning coal, so we don’t know why this provision hangs on….)  A DNREC press release claims “expected” net emissions reductions of over 11 million pounds per year.  Overall, Invista is being fined $1.7 million and required to spend “up to” $500 million to clean up its act.

The Department of Justice release says:

“The emission reductions resulting from correcting these violations will result in estimated annual human health benefits valued at over $325 million, including 30 fewer premature deaths per year, 2,000 fewer days/year when people would miss school or work, and over 9,000 fewer cases of upper and lower respiratory symptoms.” (emphasis added)

We don’t know how these were calculated, but consider:  If Invista is going to kill 30 fewer people per year, how many is it killing now, in total?

If an investment of $500 million can save $325 million per year, and 30 people’s lives, the payback for society is pretty good.  Perhaps, a hint that strengthening and enforcing environmental laws might be a good idea?

It’s hard to know how genuinely unaware Koch was of the mess it was buying.   Did “due diligence” fail or was Koch fooled by DuPont’s legendary greenwashing skills?  The Koch/DuPont lawsuit may eventually shed light on this.  It does seem, though, that DuPont, more than Koch/Invista is the villain of this piece.

Will there ever come a time when DuPont is no longer allowed to get away with murder?

Alan Muller


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