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Containerboard manufacturer to pay $2.5 million for violating Clean Air Act after fatal 2017 explosion

03 October 2022

On September 28, the US Department of Justice announced that Packaging Corporation of America (PCA) had agreed to pay $2.5 million (£2.2m) in civil penalties to resolve allegations that it violated the Clean Air Act’s General Duty Clause and Risk Management Program Regulations at its containerboard production mill in DeRidder, Louisiana.

Image: US Chemical Safety Board
Image: US Chemical Safety Board

The United States and the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ) allege nine Clean Air Act violations that stem, in part, from a fatal explosion and accidental release at the DeRidder mill on 8 February 2017. The explosion – which killed three workers and injured seven others – launched a 100,000-gallon storage tank into the air and over a six-storey building before it landed on mill equipment approximately 120 metres away. The fatally injured contractors were conducting hot work activities near a tank which contained a flammable atmosphere and ultimately exploded.

The blast also caused property damage and released extremely hazardous substances into the environment. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) inspected the DeRidder mill after the explosion and uncovered additional Clean Air Act violations.

“PCA violated the Clean Air Act and accompanying regulations at its DeRidder mill, resulting in an explosion that caused the senseless deaths of three workers, while placing other workers and the surrounding community in danger,” said Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s Environmental and Natural Resources Division.

“This settlement holds Packaging Corporation of America accountable for the harm it has caused to the environment and to the individuals who lost their lives on Feb. 8, 2017,” said Dr. Earthea Nance, EPA Region 6 Administrator. “Legal action will be pursued for companies who fail to safeguard their workers’ well-being. We offer our condolences for all individuals affected by this tragedy.”  

Section 112(r) of the Clean Air Act and its accompanying regulations are designed to prevent the accidental release of hazardous substances, like those at the DeRidder mill. Congress added section 112(r) in response to the 1984 catastrophic release of methyl isocyanate in Bhopal, India, that killed more than 3,400 people and injured more than 200,000 others.

Under the Clean Air Act, facilities like PCA’s are required to identify hazards, design and maintain a safe facility, minimise the consequences of accidental releases that do occur, and comply with regulatory prevention measures. Failing to comply with these requirements increases the risk of accidents and threatens surrounding communities.

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