EPA: $1.4M settlement with Sasol Chemicals for alleged chemical accident prevention

Published 4:03 pm Monday, April 8, 2024

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently finalized a settlement with Sasol Chemicals over alleged violations of the chemical accident prevention provisions of the Clean Air Act at the company’s facility in Westlake. Under the settlement, Sasol will pay more than $1.4 million in civil penalties and correct violations related to an October 2022 fire at the facility, as well as those found during a compliance evaluation in 2021.

From January through July 2021, EPA conducted a Virtual Partial Compliance Evaluation of the Sasol facility under chemical accident prevention requirements of the Clean Air Act, including Section 112(r) and the General Duty Clause. On Oct. 15, 2022, a fire occurred at Sasol that resulted in a shelter-in-place order for the Westlake area. The settlement announced today addresses violations from the evaluation and the fire.

Under the settlement, Sasol will pay a civil penalty of $1,441,712.00. Sasol will also undertake several actions to resolve alleged violations, such as improving systems and procedures to assure timely completion of the Process Hazardous Analysis recommendations, improving inspections and procedures to maintain mechanical integrity of process equipment, addressing and resolving overdue compliance audits findings, improving safety systems designed to detect potential hazards, updating written and operating procedures to ensure the safe conducting of work activities, and improving implementation practices of operating procedures at the facility.

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The injunctive relief in the settlement aligns with new amendments to the Risk Management Program announced on  March 1 that require stronger measures for prevention, preparedness, and public transparency. The “Safer Communities by Chemical Accident Prevention Rule” protects the health and safety of all communities by requiring industry to prevent accidental releases of dangerous chemicals that could cause deaths and injuries, damage property and the environment, or require surrounding communities to evacuate or shelter-in-place. The rule requires regulated facilities to perform a safer technologies and alternatives analysis, and in some cases, facilities will be required to implement reliable safeguard measures. Under this settlement, Sasol will develop and implement safe work practices for the pressure testing of related process equipment to avoid further chemical accidental releases like the fire and shelter-in-place that occurred on October 15, 2022.

“Sasol has been in dialogue with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to answer questions and provide information relative to our Lake Charles Chemical Complex site operations, environmental performance and continuous improvement programs following a routine audit in 2021,” said Sarah Hughes, manager of corporate affairs of Sasol.

During the 2021 audit, EPA identified several “areas of concern” related to Sasol’s Risk Management Plan and noted a potential violation of the Clean Air Act, Hughes said.

“While Sasol’s and EPA’s interpretations of the law differ on the matters outlined in this agreement, Sasol respects the authority and mission of the agency and voluntarily entered into an agreement with the agency to bring the matter to a close,” Hughes said. “The safety of our employees and neighboring communities is a core value for Sasol. We remain committed to responsible environmental management, and we will continue to comply with applicable laws, regulations and reporting requirements.

She said Sasol also voluntarily participates in the chemical industry’s world-class environmental, health, safety and security Responsible Care performance initiative. Responsible Care requires member companies to publicly report detailed safety, energy efficiency and environmental metrics.