INEOS shutdown until it deals with benzene releases says Ministry of Environment

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The Ministry of the Environment has effectively shut down INEOS Styrolutions forcing it to deal with the ongoing release of benzene at the Sarnia plant.

The Ministry has pulled it’s Environmental Compliance Approval certificate which the company needs to operate.

Aamjiwnaang First Nation Chief Chris Plain first called for the plant across the road from the band office to be shut down April 17. The day before, air quality monitors near the administration office and recreation fields registered readings of benzene of 115 parts per billion. The Ontario regulation calls for no more than less than one part per billion, although Styrolutions has an agreement with the ministry allowing it to release slightly more.

Residents and employees of the band became ill because of the release. An unknown number of band members went to the hospital for treatment for the exposure.

The band shutdown its administration office and Plain called on the province and the federal government to shut the plant down. Four days later, the company announced it was shutting down for maintenance.

April 26, the band declared a state of emergency in the community to gather the resources it might need if the situation worsened.

Tuesday, company officials denied benzene levels had been exceeded at the plant. “We constantly monitor air quality, with five state-of-the-art monitors on our Sarnia site and additional monitors throughout the surrounding area. These are official monitors, carefully calibrated within a range set by the Ontario Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks. They monitor air quality 24/7 and send alerts by email if there are any emissions outside the approved range,” the statement said.

“They continue to operate correctly. We have reviewed all data for the period concerned and we can confirm that our monitors recorded no emissions outside our prescribed limits.”

But it appears the ministry disagrees. Wednesday evening, the ministry sent out a statement which said it has suspended Ineos Styrolution’s Environmental Compliance Approval.

“Despite several previous provincial orders requiring the company to reduce benzene emissions, recent readings at this site continue to be above acceptable levels. This action will ensure the facility, currently shut down for maintenance, fully addresses the causes and sources of emissions,” the ministry says in the evening news release.

And, for the first time, the MECP is giving some indication of the scope of the problems at the plant. It outlines what Styrolutions will have to do to deal with the benzene emissions.

“The ECA has been amended to add conditions that the facility must meet including the suspension of production operations at the facility, removal of all benzene storage from the site, repair of leaky equipment and installation of full vapor control on vessels containing benzene, and a comprehensive benzene monitoring and community notification plan.”

During the last two weeks, there had not been one notification issued about the high levels of benzene in the air.

The MECP release says the company will have to submit a start-up plan to the ministry for review before Styrolutions can resume normal operations.