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Delaware County chemical plant fined $750,000 for air pollution violations

Plant produces chemicals used in hair dye, cleaning products, and water treatment systems

  • Emily Pontecorvo/WHYY

A chemical plant in Chester will pay a $750,000 penalty for nearly six years’ worth of air quality violations as part of a settlement reached with the Department of Environmental Protection.

PQ Corporation makes materials and chemicals with various applications, from fuels to road construction to consumer products like toothpaste, as well as sulfuric acid for refinery operations. The Chester plant produces sodium silicate for use in hair dye, cleaning products, and water treatment systems. 

The fine covers violations of the Pennsylvania Air Pollution Control Act, including emissions limits and failure to submit emissions reports on time. 

The DEP found the plant violated hourly emissions limits for either nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide, particulate matter, or some combination of the three, for multiple days every quarter between July 2013 and December 2018. Those pollutants are known to exacerbate respiratory problems like asthma.

By another measure — 12-month rolling total emissions limits — the company has shown improvement. The facility was found to be in violation of its rolling totals continuously from July 2013 to late 2014, at which point the plant’s emissions monitoring system was certified by DEP. Since then, the plant has been in compliance with the 12-month limits.

DEP spokesperson Virginia Cain said the penalty was delayed as the agency worked with the company to make sure the permit limits were appropriate and to get the facility back into compliance.

This is not the first time PQ Corporation has paid penalties for the Chester site. In 2015, the company paid $215,258 to DEP for similar violations during an earlier time period, and in 2017 it paid an additional $7,540 for recordkeeping and reporting violations.

PQ Corporation acknowledged the new agreement in a statement and said it has continued to make progress in the past year to reduce emissions at the Chester facility in addition to improving operating and maintenance practices.

However, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Enforcement and Compliance History database shows that the plant has continued to violate particulate matter limits throughout 2019. The database also shows a Clean Water Act violation found during an EPA site visit in March.

The PQ Corporation plant is just one of several sources of air pollution in the predominantly African American neighborhood near the Delaware River waterfront in Chester. Just a few blocks away is the Delaware Valley Resource Recovery Facility, one of the largest municipal waste incinerators in the country, and one of the most polluting of its kind

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