Updated: Momentive will pay $1.25 million to settle environmental claims

Updated: Momentive will pay $1.25 million to settle environmental claims

One of the Capital District’s largest manufacturers, Momentive Performance Materials, will pay a “total civil penalty” of $1.25 million to federal and state authorities, settling claims related to the company’s use of an incinerator at its Waterford facility a decade ago in ways that allegedly violated environmental statutes. New York and the U.S. government will each receive $625,000.

“Neither by offering to enter into, nor by entering into this Stipulation does [Momentive] admit to any wrongdoing or any violation of law,” the settlement agreement reads. The parties signed it in late March and early April.

According to the civil complaint filed Monday (one day before the agreement’s filing), Momentive “owned and/or operated” a rotary kiln incinerator “in a manner that violated” the Clean Air Act and Solid Waste Disposal Act, along with related regulations, from late 2006 through 2008.

Momentive “used the Incinerator to burn hazardous wastes generated onsite” during its “silicone-manufacturing process,” the complaint states. While this does not appear to have been inherently problematic, Momentive sometimes contravened laws or regulations in the process of carrying out this combustion, the government alleged, citing over a dozen instances where the incinerator discharged carbon monoxide in excess of acceptable limits, among other transgressions.

According to the complaint, Momentive was required by permits and other regulations “to monitor approximately 76 operating parameters or limits related to the Incinerator’s operation”; each of those parameters “was monitored using a specific monitoring device,” including flow meters, pressure gauges, and temperature monitoring devices. A computer system called “Provox” was used to track these metrics, and the data it received were automatically compared to the incinerator’s permitted limits. Provox “was designed to shut down the waste feed” to the incinerator “if the values were outside” those limits. The system it used for that objective was called an automatic waste feed cut-off, or AWFCO.

But incinerator operators sometimes avoided triggering the AWFCO “by placing monitoring devices into ‘calibration mode’ or ‘Cal-Mode,’” according to the complaint. “Cal-Mode allowed the Incinerator to continue operations even while violating” acceptable limits. Cal-Mode, the complaint explains, was intended for “routine calibrations to ensure the accuracy of the monitoring devices and, hence, the data generated from these devices.” Depending on its type, monitoring devices were to be calibrated either daily, monthly, or weekly. More than a dozen of those devices had a Cal-Mode.

From Dec. 4, 2006 through Nov. 22, 2008, Momentive “was responsible for placing the Incinerator into unauthorized Cal-Mode thousands of times,” the complaint alleges. “As a result of its unauthorized use of Cal-Mode, [Momentive] released hazardous substances [into] the environment in violation of the conditions set forth in its permits, and Federal and NYS law.”

The case appears to stretch back to at least June 2009, when federal and state officials raided the chemical plant, according to the Times Union.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency, state attorney general’s office, the Northern District of New York, the state Department of Environmental Conservation, and Momentive did not immediately return requests for comment.

A January cover story in The Alt detailed life on the picket line for about 700 of the company’s workers, who eventually brokered a deal with management in February after three months on strike. Momentive made $2.23 billion in net sales last year, the Albany Business Review reported.

This post will be updated if we hear from any of the involved parties.

Update 3:35 PM

Momentive “flouted clean air and hazardous waste laws at its Waterford facility and, as a result, released harmful, toxic chemical into the surrounding community thousands of times,” Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in a press release, which notes that the company “manually overrode” the AWFCO on “numerous occasions.”

“Violations of New York State’s environmental laws and regulations are serious offenses with serious consequences,” DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos said in the same release. “This fine is the result of the collaborative efforts of state and federal partners working together to protect our communities.”

The release goes on to note that in 2015, “Schneiderman, DEC, EPA, and DOJ entered into a settlement with General Electric for similar clean air and hazardous waste violations during the company’s ownership of the facility before selling it to MPM in December 2006. [Momentive] continued operating the facility in a similar manner.”

Update 4:45 P.M.
The Northern District of New York has released its own statement, which notes that throughout the investigation, Momentive “cooperated fully with the United States. In addition, [Momentive] implemented new calibration procedures and modified equipment to address the issue.
“In light of its disclosure and subsequent cooperation,” the statement continues, “a civil penalty of $1.25 million was deemed appropriate.”
First Assistant U.S. attorney Grant C. Jaquith said the settlement “emphasizes that companies must adhere to mandated air pollution controls when disposing of hazardous wastes.”

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