By Matt Scallan
TIMES - PICAYUNE
The Bunge grain elevator in Destrehan will install new low-emission burners as part of a consent agreement with the Environmental Protection Agency, which accused the company of violating air quality standards at 12 grain elevators and grain processing plants in eight states.
The EPA announced the $13.9 million settlement on Oct. 26, saying the agreement would eliminate 2,200 tons of harmful emissions per year in the eight states.
The bulk of the settlement will be spent to reduce pollution at the plants named in the complaint, but $1.2 million will go to the eight states, including $83,000 to the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality's mercury and lead abatement and education program. At least $15,000 of that money must be spent in St. Charles Parish.
The federal complaint accused Bunge North America and three subsidiaries of building additions to their plants that substantially increased the amount of pollutants released into the atmosphere without getting permits to do so, which allowed them to evade emissions fees and oversight by regulatory agencies.
The pollutants included the solvent n-hexane and nitrogen oxide, a lung irritant that causes smog and can react with other elements to become a hazardous chemical. N-hexane releases volatile organic compounds into the atmosphere.
Bunge admitted no wrongdoing in the settlement.
The elevator in Destrehan, built in the 1950s, employs about 140 workers, according to St. Charles Parish figures.
Details of the allegations against the Destrehan elevator were not available on Tuesday, but the agreement requires the site to reduce the amount of n-hexane solvent lost during the extraction of oil from soybeans and corn to 0.19 gallon per ton of grain processed.
The new burners, which the settlement agreement says must be installed by Dec. 31, are designed to produce less nitrogen oxide. Bunge spokeswoman Deb Seidel said the improvements at the Destrehan facility are on track to meet the deadline, and that the mandated improvements nationwide should be complete by the end of 2007.
"This settlement will result in healthier air in the 11 airsheds where the plants are located," Sue Ellen Wooldridge, assistant attorney general for the U.S. Justice Department's Environmental and Resources Division, said in a news release. "Elimination of over 1,000 tons of emissions of volatile organic compounds, for example, will reduce the formation of ground-level ozone, a pollutant that irritates the lungs and exacerbates diseases such as asthma."
The DEQ was a party to the EPA complaint.
Jane Lacour, a senior environmental scientist with the DEQ's enforcement division, said Tuesday that settlements are common in such cases.
"The purpose of these settlements is to ensure that the money is spent in resolving the problem rather than in litigation," she said.
The other facilities involved in the agreement are located in Decatur, Ala.; Marks, Miss.; Emporia, Kan.; Council Bluffs, Iowa; Delphos, Ohio; Marion, Ohio; Decatur, Ind.; Morristown, Ind.; Cairo, Ill.; and two plants in Danville, Ill