Conn. Suit To Allege More Than 1,500 Clean Water Act Violations

High levels of toxic metals and other pollutants in Salmon Brook are a threat to fish and local wildlife.

GLASTONBURY, CT—On Oct. 21, 2015, NELC attorneys served Connecticut Galvanizing Corporation, Highway Safety Corporation, and Highway Safety Design and Fabrication Corporation with a notice of intent to sue under the federal Clean Water Act. The notice, sent on behalf of Environment Connecticut and Toxics Action Center, alleges that these companies have discharged high levels of toxic metals and other pollutants into two tributaries of the Connecticut River.

These three companies own and operate a metal fabrication and galvanizing facility that discharges storm water into both Salmon Brook and Hubbard Brook in Glastonbury. NELC’s notice alleges more than 1,500 violations of the Clean Water Act committed by the facility over the past five years.

“Each time it rains, these companies discharge storm water containing high levels of zinc, lead, copper, suspended solids, oil, and grease into both Salmon Brook and Hubbard Book,” said Environment Connecticut Director Chris Phelps. “These streams flow past family homes and provide habitat for fish and other wildlife. This is unacceptable.”

The facility’s discharge routinely contains zinc and copper in concentrations many times higher than levels shown to be toxic to several species of amphibians and fish, including trout. In fact, the companies’ own testing has demonstrated that the discharge is acutely toxic to aquatic life even when significantly diluted.

Salmon Brook is a wild trout management area, and is stocked with juvenile and adult trout. Regular exposure to this toxic discharge poses a significant risk to the fish and wildlife of both Salmon Brook and Hubbard Brook.

The facility performs what is known as “hot dip” galvanizing, which involves treating metal with alkali solution, hydrochloric acid, and zinc ammonium, and then immersing it in molten zinc.

“These streams flow past family homes and provide habitat for fish and other wildlife. This [pollution] is unacceptable.”

—Chris Phelps, director of Environment Connecticut

The companies store many of the raw materials and finished products associated with this process outdoors, yet have failed to implement basic control measures to prevent the toxic byproducts of their galvanizing work from washing into these waterways during rainstorms.

The facility’s discharges regularly violate the pollution limits specified in the storm water permit issued by the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. NELC’s notice alleges that the companies have violated the limits for zinc, lead, copper, suspended solids, and oil and grease during every rainfall event since the permit was issued. Some pollutant discharges have exceeded the permit- ted limit by more than 130,000 percent.

NELC’s notice also alleges that the companies have violated their permit by failing to implement required pollution control measures and technologies.

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NELC Attorneys File Clean Air Act Suit Against World’s Largest Steel Company

Pollution from the ArcelorMittal coke plant fouls the air of surrounding western Pennsylvania communities.

PITTSBURGH, PA—On Oct. 8, 2015, NELC attorneys filed a citizen suit under the federal Clean Air Act against the world’s largest steel company, Arcelor- Mittal, to address hundreds of ongoing violations at the company’s Pittsburgh-area coke plant. The complaint was filed on behalf of PennEnvironment and its members in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, after NELC sent the required notice to ArcelorMittal on Aug. 4, 2015.

Due to a wide variety of alleged problems at the plant, residents of the surrounding towns are experiencing sootfall, acidic gases, and noxious odors. Those most severely affected live in Westmoreland and Washing- ton counties in the municipalities of Monessen, Donora, Monongahela, and Carroll Township.

“In the past 60 days, I have called and complained to the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) 12 times because of the foul odors and air pollution that continue to emanate from the Monessen Coke Plant,” said Viktoryia Maroz, a resident of Donora. “This poisoning of the public has to stop.”

“The public needs and deserves an advocate to stand up on their behalf,” said David Masur, executive director of PennEnvironment. “It is not acceptable that the world’s largest steel company, which brings in $80 billion annually, hasn’t found a way to comply with our cornerstone environmental laws.”

PennEnvironment’s complaint seeks a court order requiring the Monessen Coke Plant to comply with its Clean Air Act permit, as well as civil penalties against ArcelorMittal to punish it for past violations and to deter future violations.

In an attempt to resolve the plant’s air pollution violations and bring relief to local residents as quickly and efficiently as possible, NELC attorneys have initiated discussions with ArcelorMittal, the DEP, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to jointly develop solutions that will bring the plant into sustained compliance with Clean Air Act emissions standards and limitations without extended litigation.

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Pennsylvania Resident Leads Charge for Clean Air

At a Pittsburgh press conference, Viktoryia Maroz speaks alongside PennEnvironment Executive Director David Masur (center) about her experiences with air pollution from ArcelorMittal’s Monessen, Pa., coke plant.

Viktoryia Maroz is a banking analyst who lives within two miles of ArcelorMittal’s Monessen Coke Plant in Donora, Pa. Exercising her rights as a concerned citizen and a member of PennEnvironment, Viktoryia is participating in the NELC lawsuit seeking to compel ArcelorMittal to comply with the Clean Air Act.

NELC: Did you notice a change in your living conditions after the Arcelor- Mittal plant reopened in April 2014?

Victoryia Maroz: Since the reopening of the coke plant, the odors and pollution have been so devastating that I experience extreme headaches, fatigue, and burning of the eyes. The odors can be so strong in and around the house that they wake me up in the middle of the night. And you can’t escape the smell, even inside your own home, since it persists even with the windows and doors shut and the furnace turned off. With the pollution also comes many health concerns.

NELC: What concerns you about the air pollution coming from the plant?

VM: Basically, I am concerned that the air I am breathing on a daily basis is not safe. I am concerned that it is affecting my health and the health of others who visit my home. Every month, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) finds coal dust and heavy metals in the air samples taken from my backyard. I would like to start a family, but I don’t want my children to be sick due to the air pollution.

NELC: Who have you contacted about these concerns, and what response have you received?

VM: In November 2014, I went to the Monessen City Council meeting to voice my frustration with the ongoing air pollution, but the mayor quickly discounted my health concerns as an attack against local jobs. I have also been in touch with the DEP and filed numerous odor complaints. DEP representatives came to my house a number of times to speak with me about my complaints, and to install an air monitor in my backyard, but they haven’t provided any solutions. Finally, I contacted the company itself to complain about the problem, but ArcelorMittal offers no explanation to citizens as to why the pollution and odors persist, nor has it explained why the plant continues to exceed pollutant emission standards.

NELC: Why do you feel that legal action is necessary?

VM: I do not believe it is fair that citizens are forced to live in unpleasant and unhealthy conditions because a nearby facility is violating our environmental laws. Since the company is breaking the law, legal action has to be taken for true progress to begin.

NELC: What role has NELC played in your fight for better air quality?

VM: I am very thankful and grateful for NELC! I have been working closely with NELC Attorney Heather Govern, who has provided me with continuous support and assistance. I feel privileged to be working with NELC, and optimistic that this lawsuit can help make a difference in my life and the lives of other Monongahela Valley residents.

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The EPA Should Not Downplay Serious Air Pollution Violations

Chemical plants can emit large amounts of air pollutants over short time periods.

WASHINGTON, D.C.—NELC has joined dozens of environmental and public health groups in calling on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to treat short-lived but extreme breaches of federal air pollution control laws as “high priority violations.”

In a revision to the EPA’s enforcement policy announced on Aug. 25, 2015, illegal emissions of hazardous pollutants will no longer be considered high priority unless the violations continue for at least seven days. However, as NELC’s recent Clean Air Act suits have shown, repeated illegal releases of dangerous pollutants in short, intense bursts are a serious problem.

The communities most likely to be affected by these extreme air pollution events are low- and moderate-income neighborhoods, and many include large numbers of children and elderly residents, who are most sensitive to respiratory ailments triggered by air pollution.

In an Oct. 16, 2015, letter drafted by Eric Schaeffer of the Environmental Integrity Project, NELC joined Environment Texas, Sierra Club, and groups from across the nation in calling on the EPA to reclassify short term violations that release an unusually large volume of dangerous pollutants or that occur frequently enough to cause emissions to exceed annual limits as a high priority.

“Citizen enforcement suits are an incredibly powerful and important enforcement tool, but we can’t do it all,” said NELC Senior Attorney Josh Kratka. “The EPA needs to join us in focusing on these significant violators.”

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