Clark County and an Oklahoma City-based chemical company have reached a record settlement related to allegations that the company’s Henderson plant underreported its emissions and operated without a proper permit for nearly 20 years.
Tronox must pay the county $505,000 in civil penalties.
It will be the largest monetary penalty the county’s Department of Air Quality has collected during its 15 years in operation, department director Marci Henson said. The previous highest amount was $150,000.
Tronox’s penalty is substantially less than the nearly $1.35 million the county originally sought.
Henson said the amount dropped because Tronox was willing to scale back some of its onsite operations in order to dramatically reduce the amount of hazardous air pollutants it emits locally.
“It’s not the money that matters to us, other than to impress upon the source to not do it again,” Henson said.
Tronox agreed to shut down two of its four hearth furnaces before July 2018 and halve emissions from processing raw manganese ore to produce electrolytic manganese dioxide.
Electrolytic manganese dioxide is the main product of Tronox’s plant inside the Black Mountain Industrial Center, across Lake Mead Parkway from downtown Henderson. It’s a black powder that’s the energy source in alkaline batteries.
But emissions from the production process are listed as hazardous in the Clean Air Act, Henson said. At excessive levels they can cause neurological and respiratory issues.
Tronox’s emissions were nowhere near those levels, Henson said, but they were nearly nine times higher than allowed by permit at the company’s plant in Henderson.
The Department of Air Quality first noticed the excessive emissions in 2013 during a compliance evaluation.
“The testing revealed their emissions levels were substantially greater than what they previously represented,” Henson said. “It was absolutely clear to us that they were operating as a major source for manganese compound (emissions) and that they had been exceeding their permitted emission levels with the permit they did have.”
Henson said Tronox should have had applied for a Title V operating permit by 1996, according to the Clean Air Act. The company submitted an application for one in 2014, but the county is requiring independent testing of emission levels at the plant this year before staff will issue the new operating permit.
Tronox will continue to operate as it comes into compliance with the settlement’s terms, which were finalized at the Air Pollution Control Hearing Board’s Nov. 16 meeting.
“We are implementing the agreed solutions and feel these changes will benefit our community and Tronox,” plant manager Rick Stater wrote in a statement to the Review-Journal this week.
The Black Mountain Industrial Center in Henderson has existed since the early 1940s. Tronox is a spinoff of Kerr-McGee Corp. and previously operated at the site under that name.
Contact Michael Scott Davidson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-477-3861. Find @davidsonlvrj on Twitter.