Lehigh Southwest Reaches Settlement with EPA

Lehigh Southwest Cement Co. in Cupertino, Calif., will pay a $47,600 penalty and spend $144,250 on projects and hazmat suit donations as part of a settlement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, reported the San Jose Mercury News. This is the second settlement between Lehigh’s Cupertino facility and the EPA this year. In April, the cement plant agreed to a joint federal and state Clean Water Act settlement that required it to reduce toxic discharges of selenium and other metals into Permanente Creek, which runs near the facility and into the San Francisco Bay.

The settlement involves Lehigh’s alleged failure to properly report the release of toxic chemicals at its Cupertino cement facility in 2009 and 2010. Under the federal Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act, Lehigh was required to submit to the EPA and the state of California an accurate Toxic Release Inventory Reporting Form R for every toxic chemical manufactured or processed in quantities exceeding established thresholds, according to the EPA’s Tuesday announcement.

An inspection by theEPA found that in 2009 and 2010, Lehigh manufactured or processed nickel, thallium, lead and mercury compounds at the Cupertino plant in amounts that exceeded those thresholds, then either failed to submit or submitted inaccurate Form Rs for those chemicals.

“The citizens of Cupertino play an important role in holding polluters accountable, and they rely on data from the Community Right-to-Know law,” said Jared Blumenfeld, EPA’s regional administrator for the Pacific Southwest. “It is critical for Lehigh to comply with federal laws that ensure the safety of neighboring communities and protect the local environment.”

In addition to the $47,600 penalty, the settlement requires Lehigh to donate emergency response equipment, including 12 hazmat suits, to the Santa Clara County Fire Department within 90 days. The EPA says the equipment and suits will help the fire department’s ability to respond to and prepare for chemical release emergencies in the area around the Cupertino facility.

Lehigh will also fully enclose a raw materials conveyor by using new covers, sealed inspection ports, and specialized dust and debris collectors within a year of the settlement. The upgrades will prevent “fine-grained material” conveyed on the belt from escaping, thus reducing potential environmental and public health impacts from the dust, according to the EPA.

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