Dow Silicones settles over pollution emissions

Breana Noble
The Detroit News
Dow Silicones Corp. has settled with the U.S. government over allegations it failed to report and manage properly hazardous pollutant discharges at its facility in Midland.

A Dow Inc. subsidiary has settled with the U.S. Justice Department over allegations that it failed to report and manage properly the discharge of hazardous chemicals.

The agreement resolves alleged environmental violations at Dow Silicones Corp.'s chemical manufacturing facility in Midland, where the chemical company is based, the Justice Department said Tuesday in a statement. Dow will pay a penalty of $4.55 million, implement a series of measures to reduce pollutant emissions and support other environmental projects in the community.

“Michigan companies that manufacture, process and handle dangerous chemicals and substances have a legal and ethical responsibility to ensure that their activities do not pollute our air, our waters, or our ground,” U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider for the Eastern District of Michigan said in a statement. “The United States appreciates the fact that, under this settlement, Dow Silicones Corporation recognizes its responsibilities to both honor federal law and protect the environment.”

The Environmental Protection Agency in March 2012 and April 2015 identified the alleged violations. Dow Inc. did not fully acquire Dow Corning, the predecessor of Dow Silicones, until 2016. Before then, it was a joint venture with Corning Inc.

"We are committed to working with regulators to resolve the matters noted in the Consent Decree and make improvements in the safest and most efficient way possible," Dow spokeswoman Rachelle Schikorra said in a statement.

The primary violations alleged Dow Silicones failed to monitor and repair leaks of volatile organic compounds such as toluene. The company also failed to operate properly the facility's thermal oxidizer, its primary control device for hazardous air pollutants such as benzene, allowing for excess emissions, the complaint claims.

Excess emissions of these pollutants increase the possibility of exposure to pollutants known to cause cancer, other serious health effects and adverse environmental conditions. Health effects can include damage to the immune system, reduced fertility and neurological, developmental and respiratory problems.

Dow also allegedly failed to identify hazardous waste streams and properly manage and monitor stormwater at the facility. Doing so may have led to the discharge of pollutants such as hydrochloric acid, benzene and heavy metals, including arsenic, that are harmful to aquatic species in the Lingle Drain and Tittabawassee River, according to the Justice Department.

The consent decree requires Dow to undertake measures that should result in an estimated annual emission reduction of 218 tons of hazardous air pollutants such as benzene and 43.53 tons of volatile organic compounds such as toluene. The measures also would result in an estimated annual pollutant reduction of 3 tons of nitrogen and zinc. Dow has adopted a number of these measures already, according to the agreement.

The measures include implementing:

  • A revised benzene sampling plan
  • A comprehensive leak detection and repair program for equipment
  • A compliance plan to remedy Clean Air Act violations identified through a voluntary audit performed by Dow
  • Specified measures to control vent streams that contain hazardous air pollutants and improve the operation of air pollution control equipment
  • A plan to identify and characterize hazardous waste streams
  • Adequate secondary containment for tanks
  • An analysis to improve the management and monitoring of stormwater at the facility and update its stormwater pollution prevention plan
  • A revised hazardous substance release reporting policy and training procedures

Dow also must spend $1.6 million on supplemental environmental projects, including lead abatement projects to protect children from paint hazards in and around Midland. The company must donate air monitoring equipment to local responders and implement more frequent monitoring and improved repair and replacement procedures for equipment that contains hazardous air pollutants.

The deal is subject to federal court approval following a 30-day public comment period.