Helena Chemical Co. has not been a good neighbor
This letter is in response to a commentary by Helena Chemical’s vice president for the company’s Southern Business Unit entitled, “Public hearing offers transparent forum for air permit.”
A hearing before the Environmental Improvement Board began this week that will determine whether Helena Chemical Co. will maintain its air quality permit from the state.
Helena releases from its facility air pollutant emissions in such a volume that the state has determined that a permit is required to protect the health of residents and the environment. It is critical that such facilities operate with valid permits so that public health and the environment are protected.
The department first issued an air quality permit to the company in November 2005. Helena’s permit resulted from an enforcement action the department took against the company in 2004 for operating without a permit for a number of years. The department issued a notice of violation and assessed a penalty of $238,000 to the company in November 2004 for operating its facility without an air quality permit.
The Environment Department’s regulation of Helena is not unfair, as Mr. Rodrigue states. Regulation of Helena is consistent with NMED’s authority and consistent with its regulation of other similar facilities.
However, the company’s flippant attitude regarding state regulation and the concerns of neighbors of Helena has earned it a bad reputation. It is unfortunate that Helena for many years has been disrespectful to residents of Mesquite by failing to follow state environmental laws and ignoring public sentiment concerning its operations. The company has not been a good neighbor.
The Environment Department has levied penalties against Helena Chemical over the years because of the fertilizer company’s violations of state air and water laws.
Helena Chemical also has had regular spills of water contaminants at its facility. There is contamination in shallow groundwater at the facility that is above state standards and required a groundwater abatement plan to clean up the contamination. The department is now working to ensure that Helena completes a second stage of cleanup for that contamination.
It is the department’s responsibility to protect the health of residents and the environment. We make a practice of meeting with state businesses and other entities we regulate to help them comply with state regulations before enforcement is necessary. That was no different with Helena.
The facts regarding Helena’s compliance are:
- Helena paid the Environment Department a penalty of $208,000 in 2007 for 11 violations of the facility’s air quality permit at its Mesquite plant. Among other things, Helena allowed emissions to escape.
- NMED also collected a penalty of $211,000 from the company in November 2004 for failing to obtain a permit to operate the facility.
- The department also issued a $36,000 penalty to Helena in October 2006 when the company failed to report a chemical fertilizer spill.
- NMED further investigated Helena in March 2007 after a fire broke out at another Helena facility in Humboldt, Tenn., to ensure local operations were safe.
The Environment Department will continue to ensure that Helena complies with state environmental laws in order to protect the health and welfare of residents in the area.
Norton is NMED’s Environmental Protection Division director.
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