SI Group has to pay a fine of more than $277,000 for emissions released after a control device at its Rotterdam Junction plant exploded more than five months ago.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation fined the Niskayuna-based manufacturer of chemicals a civil penalty of $277,500 for a series of four violations that occurred from Oct. 10 through Oct. 15 at its manufacturing facility, located at 1000 Main St. along the Mohawk River. SI Group manufactures resins that are used in everyday items — from sunscreen to the tires of a car.
The company was producing six batches of resins on Oct. 10 when the emission control device used to destroy air pollutants exploded, according to a March 18 consent order obtained by The Daily Gazette. The device is known as a regenerative thermal oxidizer, or RTO, and is used to treat exhaust air produced by the resins, which were contained within vessels at plant buildings 9 and 39.
“There had been a sudden influx of flammable vapor into the RTO, which is essentially a big gas burner,” explained company spokeswoman Brooke Manrique. “It was at the tail end of one of our production processes for a specific batch, and it resulted in an over-pressurization. So when that happened, we followed the required protocols. Sections of the plant connected to the RTO were shut down. We had an incident investigation started right away.”
The investigation found minor emissions at the explosion site, but found no impact to the air around the site, she said. SI Group contacted the DEC to discuss the ramifications of discarding the batches of resin entirely, or finishing the batches that were already in progress with a temporary emission control device.
The DEC signed off on finishing the batches, on the condition that the company believed the explosion was caused by a malfunction and that air quality data showed no impact outside the immediate site.
“We made the decision to finish those batches without the RTO, and that resulted in the emissions that led to this order of consent,” said Manrique. “We determined that it was much safer for our employees and the environment to finish the batches off, rather than to remove the materials manually.”
But after the resin-making process started up again, only two vessels were controlled by the temporary device. Three other vessels ended up emitting pollutants.
On Nov. 9 and Jan. 4, SI Group submitted incident reports to the DEC saying that the explosion had been caused by an unexpected “thermal degradation of the resin being reacted” — which caused flammable gas to accumulate in high concentrations. Ultimately, the RTO had been unable to control the vapors from the gas and the device exploded.
Last month, the DEC determined that the explosion wasn’t caused by a malfunction and told SI Group it needed to find a new emission control device for the resins being produced in those two buildings. Since the Rotterdam Junction plant operates on a Title V air permit, SI Group was in violation of both state and federal regulations.
The company is looking for a permanent replacement emission control device.
“We are now consulting with independent professional advisers to evaluate the technologies that we have to make sure that everything is safe, and to be sure that the incident does not repeat itself,” said Manrique.