Texas Foundry Admits Illegal Construction of Polluting Furnace

TYLER, Texas, March 23, 2005 (ENS) - In the first federal criminal prosecution of its kind, one of the largest iron foundries in the United States has agreed to plead guilty to two felony counts of violating the Clean Air Act and pay a criminal fine of $4.5 million. In addition, $12 million worth of upgrades will be required to ensure cleaner air in the future.

Tyler Pipe Company, a division of McWane, Inc., manufactures gray and ductile iron pipes for municipal, commercial and residential water and waste disposal services at its plant in Tyler, Smith County, about 100 miles southeast of Dallas.

The violations at issue occurred five years ago when the company tore down one of its two large furnaces and replaced it with a new furnace without applying to the state for a permit. Then, the company failed to disclose the new furnace on a federal permit application.

Standing 60 feet tall, these furnaces, called cupolas, melt shredded car bodies and other scrap metal to produce molten iron. The cupolas generate air pollution, including emissions of particulate matter, carbon monoxide and lead.


City of Tyler in Smith County, Texas. (Photo credit unknown)
“Tyler knowingly failed to secure required air permits when it undertook construction, and it attempted to conceal its actions. That type of conduct will not be tolerated," said Thomas Skinner, acting assistant administrator for enforcement and compliance assurance with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Skinner said the federal government prosecuted this type of violation for the first time in the Tyler Pipe case.

Tyler Pipe operates two facilities at its Smith County site, the North Plant that manufactures soil pipe to deliver drinking water and wastewater and the South Plant that manufactures utility fittings for the water supply industry.

From December 1998 through January 1999, Tyler Pipe razed its old south plant cupola and replaced it with a new cupola. Under the Clean Air Act’s prevention of significant deterioration provisions, Tyler Pipe was required to apply to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality for permission to construct and operate the new cupola.

The Clean Air Act would have required that pollution from the new cupola be controlled using the best available control technology. Instead, Tyler Pipe concealed the construction of the new cupola from the Texas Commission and connected its new cupola to an existing pollution control device, a water scrubber designed and built in the 1960s.

“Emissions from this facility travel great distances and affect the health of communities far from Tyler, Texas," said EPA Regional Administrator Richard Greene. "I am pleased that EPA, in coordination with our state and federal partners, has been able to use the effective enforcement tools provided by the Clean Air Act to protect human health and the environment while ensuring a level playing field for industry.”


Tyler students get a tour of a fire truck parked at the Tyler Public Library. (Photo courtesy City of Tyler)
Additionally, as a major pollution emitting facility, Tyler Pipe was required to apply for a Clean Air Act Title V permit that requires regular reports on how the company is tracking its emissions of pollution and the controls it is using to limit its emissions.

In an effort to conceal its knowing violation of the Clean Air Act, Tyler Pipe claimed in its Title V permit application that the south plant cupola had not been modified since 1971, and was therefore not subject to the Clean Air Act's prevention of significant deterioration or Title V requirements.

In addition to paying a criminal fine of $4.5 million, Tyler Pipe will be subject to probation for a period of five years, during which it will be required to upgrade a number of structures regulated under the Clean Air Act. The upgrades are estimated to cost about $12 million.

Officials with McWane, a family owned business based in Birmingham, Alabama, did not comment on today's guilty plea and resulting penalties.

After a series of media reports on the number of accidents at the foundry, including a 2004 Pulitzer Prize winning "New York Times" article, Tyler Pipe established a Community Advisory Panel last October "to enhance its connection with the community."

The panel includes businesspeople, public officials from Smith County, Tyler and Lindale; educators; the United Steelworkers of America local president, and representatives with public health and safety backgrounds.

Tony Orlowski, manager of Tyler Pipe’s South Plant, said, “Actively seeking the community’s involvement builds on successful collaborative efforts we’ve already undertaken with the United Steelworkers of America on workplace safety and other issues involving our employees."

But that kind of community outreach did not impress federal prosecutors. “This prosecution and resulting agreement send a strong message to those in industry of their responsibility to uphold the laws that protect the public health and environment of their community,” said Assistant Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources Division Thomas Sansonetti.

“If they seek to cover up operations at their facilities to try to avoid the cost of the technology required by law to protect the environment, they will be held responsible to the fullest extent possible.”