WASHINGTON—"An Environmental Protection Agency decision to list carbon black manufacturing as a major source of hazardous air pollutants has little significance for that industry, according to a top environmental official for Cabot Corp."
This was the lead of a Sept. 2, 1996, RPN story. Seventeen years later, in November 2013, Cabot entered into a settlement agreement with the EPA to pay a $975,000 civil penalty and spend more than $84 million to control air pollution at its three Texas and Louisiana carbon black facilities.
This EPA settlement agreement was followed by one with Continental Carbon Co. in March 2015, with Continental agreeing to pay a $650,000 civil penalty and spend $98 million to reduce toxic emissions.
On Dec. 22, 2017, three more carbon black manufacturers—Orion Engineered Carbons L.L.C., Sid Richardson Carbon and Energy Co. and Columbian Chemicals, part of Birla Carbon—announced settlement agreements with the EPA.
Orion, which purchased four carbon black facilities from a subsidiary of Evonik Industries A.G. in 2011, agreed to pay an $800,000 civil penalty, perform $550,000 worth of environmental mitigation projects and spend more than $100 million to install and operate state-of-the-art pollution controls at its carbon black facilities.
Sid Richardson also agreed to install pollution controls worth more than $100 million, as well as paying a $999,000 civil penalty and spending $490,000 for environmental mitigation.
Columbian agreed to spend $94 million on pollution controls and pay a $650,000 civil penalty.
Since 1990, Congress has required the EPA to identify categories of industrial sources of air pollutants under the Clean Air Act. Originally the law listed 189 hazardous air pollutants; since then, two—caprolactam and methyl ethyl ketone—have been removed from the list.
The EPA first identified carbon black manufacturing as a potential source of air toxins in a July 1992 background document. Two years later, the agency received further information that led it to believe carbon black manufacturing was a "major source" of hazardous air pollutants.
Based on that, the EPA officially listed carbon black as a major source of hazardous air pollutants in a Federal Register notice published June 4, 1996.
Sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide always have been the pollutants most often associated with carbon black production. With this listing, the agency announced its intention to create maximum achievable control technology (MACT) standards for carbon black manufacturing by 2000, with the industry complying with MACT standards by 2003.
However, at the time the Federal Register notice was published, Bill Fleming—then manager of environmental assurance at Cabot—said that state environmental requirements would require carbon black producers to take action anyway.
"Had we not been listed (by the EPA), carbon black facilities that are not collecting and combusting their waste tail gas would face ad hoc MACT determinations by their home states in the year 2000," Fleming said. "And the states' decisions would be for them to collect and burn their tail gas."
Collecting and burning tail gas from carbon black manufacturing destroys nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide from industry emissions, Fleming said at the time. Cabot already collected and burned its tail gases from its facilities, he added.
In 2007, the EPA initiated its investigation of the carbon black industry that led to the consent agreements of 2013-17. Based on the information it received during the investigation, the EPA decided that certain carbon black plants had made modifications that violated the New Source Review and other provisions of the Clean Air Act, according to the agency. Its review encompassed not only nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide, but also particulate matter and other hazardous pollutants.
The EPA's investigation of the carbon black industry was a major topic of the speech given at the 2014 Clemson University Tire Industry Conference by Gregory King, Sid Richardson vice president of marketing.
In 2014, carbon black nameplate manufacturing capacity in the U.S. and Mexico stood at 4.63 billion pounds annually, King said in his speech. But EPA efforts to control nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide emissions would cause that capacity to fall to 4.11 billion pounds by 2020, he said.
Projected demand for that year indicated a production shortage of 465 million pounds, King said.
The carbon black manufacturers mentioned in this story either declined comment or could not be reached for comment. A Sid Richardson spokesman said the company could not comment before its consent decree with the government was finalized.