By Melanie Lekocevic
Capital Region Independent Media
SELKIRK — The SABIC plastics plant has been fined $322,400 in penalties and required to make facility improvements following a 2020 hazardous gas leak, according to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.
The DEC fined the Selkirk company to resolve violations in connection with the September 2020 leak that released approximately 22,057 pounds of styrene vapor into the environment.
Styrene gas is highly flammable. The accidental 2020 leak from a rail car tank at the plant released the vapor through the rail car’s pressure relief valve and manway, according to the DEC.
The leak led to road closures and the evacuation of everyone within a half mile of the facility. Residents within a mile of the plant were advised to shelter in place.
“Today, DEC is holding SABIC accountable for creating a dangerous situation that threatened the health and safety of employees, emergency responders and the surrounding community,” DEC Commissioner Basic Seggos said in a statement. “These enforcement actions include a substantial penalty and require SABIC to improve its operations to protect the surrounding community and the environment from further violations and prevent future emergencies.”
Styrene is a synthetic chemical used in the manufacture of plastics, rubber and resins. Exposure to styrene can lead to health issues involving the individual’s central nervous system and lead to headache, fatigue, dizziness, confusion, drowsiness, malaise, difficulty in concentrating and a feeling of intoxication, according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
A DEC investigation into the incident revealed “improper handling and storage of hazardous substances, improper maintenance and repair of the rail car, violations of air pollution regulations, and an unauthorized release of a hazardous substance,” according to the DEC.
The state inspection also found an additional 29 violations of the plant’s Air Title V permit that were unrelated to the styrene leak, according to the DEC.
The company was fined $322,400 and required to undertake a comprehensive third-party audit of the plant’s hazardous substance management, which will result in recommendations and new operating procedures and employee training protocols, according to the state.
A spokesperson for the company could not be reached for comment at press time.