NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The company that owns a closed fertilizer plant in Louisiana has agreed to clean up more than a billion pounds of hazardous waste and to pay a $1.5 million fine, federal and state agencies said Thursday.
PCS Nitrogen Fertilizer LP “will provide over $84 million of financial assurance” for the cleanup, final closure and 50 years of monitoring and maintenance, said statements from the Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Justice Department, and the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality.
The agreement will "ensure that the long-term closure of its facility is protective of the environment,” said EPA enforcement official Larry Starfield. “This is a very important outcome as the facility is located in an area prone to hurricanes and the financial assurance secured will protect taxpayers from paying future closure and cleanup costs.”
The Canadian company that owns the plant changed its name from Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan to Nutrien with a merger in 2018, but U.S. documents refer to the plant as PCS Nitrogen.
“Nutrien has long been cooperating with State and Federal authorities, and these settlements formally document the work Nutrien has done, and continues to do,” the Saskatoon-based company wrote on its website.
The announcement starts a 45-day public comment period, after which a federal judge in Baton Rouge will decide whether to approve it.
The waste is in acidic lakes atop vast piles of phosphogypsum at the PCS Nitrogen Fertilizer LP site in Geismar, about 20 miles southeast of Baton Rouge.
PCS Nitrogen has said it can clean the liquid to meet standards for drinking water, and applied last year for a permit to discharge such water into the Mississippi River.
The water application is still under consideration, Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality spokesman Greg Langley said in an email Thursday.
The federal and state agencies said the waste at PCS Nitrogen, which had no permit to store, treat or dispose of hazardous waste, includes material accepted from nearby Innophos Holdings Inc. — a company which agreed in 2017 to a $1.4 million fine. Innophos also agreed to dig deep injection wells, expected to cost $16 million, for its remaining waste.
Thursday's agreement was signed by the president of PCS Nitrogen Fertilizer Operations Inc. of Deerfield, Illinois, a partner in the plant. The company denies the waste is hazardous and denies the allegations against it.
The Geismar plant made industrial and agricultural phosphate products in Louisiana for agriculture and industry from the 1960s to until it closed in 2018, the state and federal agencies said.
The vast piles of phosphogypsum waste include some that rise 200 feet (61 meters) high and cover more than 100 acres (40 hectares), the news release said.
The fine is at least the third that PCS Nitrogen has faced in environmental cases.
PCS Nitrogen agreed in 2003 to pay $1.75 million -- then the largest corporate fine in state history for an environmental violation -- after pleading guilty to failing to include 20 pollution sources in air permit applications. In 2013, it agreed to pay nearly $199,000 and to reduce air emissions from phosphoric acid production, while denying that it had polluted.
Nutrien said its agreements “allow us to focus on new projects like the potential construction at our Geismar site of the world’s largest clean ammonia plant and to further reduce our environmental footprint at the site.”