A US court in Montana has ordered Rhodia to pay $18 million in criminal fines and restitution for environmental damages.
On January 14, Rhodia plead guilty to two felonies committed in violation of the US Resource, Conservation and Recovery Act RCRA. The violations took place at Rhodia’s elemental phosphorus manufacturing plant located in Silver Bow County, Montana.
The Silver Bow Plant previously manufactured elemental phosphorus, from at least 1986 until 1996. Elemental phosphorus was used by other manufacturers to produce fertilizer, pesticides and food grade phosphoric acid. Elemental phosphorus waste, however, is known as a “hazardous” waste under RCRA, in that it is ignitable, since it can spontaneously ignite when exposed to air, posing a serious threat to the environment and public health. In 1996, the Silver Bow Plant was put into “mothball” status, and was closed in 1997.
Rhodia had previously admitted that from January 1999 until August 2000, after the Silver Bow Plant was closed, it illegally stored elemental phosphorus sludge, a hazardous waste, at the site in a large concrete tank known as a 100-foot clarifier. Rhodia has also admitted that it illegally stored carbon brick and precipitator dust contaminated with elemental phosphorus waste, a hazardous waste. The carbon brick and precipitator dust had been discarded from a furnace at the site. The illegal activity was discovered in May 2000, when EPA and Montana Department of Environmental Quality (“DE”) executed a search warrant at the Silver Bow Plant.
Pursuant to the plea agreement approved by the court, Rhodia will be required to perform remediation of all hazardous wastes at the Silver Bow Plant. The remediation will be subject to approval by the US Environmental Protection Agency fs’ probation, where the period of probation could be extended should remediation at the Silver Bow Plant take longer than five years.
The criminal fine is the largest ever paid for criminal environmental violations in the District of Montana, and one of the largest ever paid for prosecution of hazardous waste crimes in the US.