July 31, 2008

Helena Chemical Company Hit With $279,000 Fine

By Steve Ramirez, Las Cruces Sun-News, N.M.

Jul. 31--To view a copy of the compliance order, click here.

LAS CRUCES -- Helena Chemical Co., in Mesquite, was fined $279,076 Wednesday by the New Mexico Environment Department for 11 alleged air quality violations.

Helena, 252 John Grisham Drive in Mesquite, processes and distributes agricultural chemicals, including fertilizer.

"Operating a business comes with certain responsibilities, including protecting residents and the environment from effects of that operation," said state Environment Secretary Ron Curry. "Helena continues to have lax air monitoring methods that put residents at risk -- we will not tolerate that behavior from any company and will continue to ensure residents have the protection they deserve from problematic companies like Helena."

Helena officials can request a settlement hearing from the department.

"Helena is reviewing this document and will respond within the time frames allowed by law," said Ed Brister, a Helena representative

Curry's compliance order alleges violations including allowing emissions to escape from the facility, neglecting to conduct testing and monitoring

to make sure air quality standards are met and failing to maintain records of plant operations. That order is based on a notice of violation the department issued to the company in November.

"Helena Chemical continues to flagrantly disregard the health and well-being of the residents of Mesquite, NMED and its air quality permit issued by the state of New Mexico," said Arturo Uribe, executive director of the Mesquite Community Action Committee. "While the Mesquite Community Action Committee welcomes NMED's compliance order and subsequent penalty, we believe it was not stiff enough. These fines are merely a slap on the wrist and are simply written off by Helena Chemical as the cost of doing business in New Mexico. ... How many more violations of their air quality permit must the community endure before the state of New Mexico takes more significant action against Helena Chemical."

Seven inspections conducted by the environment department's Air Quality Bureau between March 2007 and June 2007 uncovered the violations of the Air Quality Control Act, Air Quality Control Regulations and Helena's air permit with the state.

It's not the first time Helena has been in trouble with the state environment department. A notice of violation and a penalty of $238,000 was assessed to Helena in November 2004 for failing to obtain an air quality permit to operate the facility.

"Once the company obtained the permit, it still failed to understand the gravity of complying with that permit and laws governing air quality," Curry said.

The environment department also levied a $36,000 penalty to Helena in October 2006 when it failed to report a chemical fertilizer spill.

"Over the past five years, our community has been patient yet persistent in addressing this issue with NMED," Uribe said. "That patience is now running thin."

Helena is a U.S. distributor of agricultural products including fertilizer, chemicals and seed, and is headquartered in Collierville, Tenn. Helena has operated a fertilizer warehouse in Mesquite since 1989.

Steve Ramirez can be reached at [email protected]

Helena violations

The New Mexico Environment Department alleges that Helena allegedly violated its air quality permit by:

-- Failing to enclose doors and other openings at its Mesquite facility when it conducted work on fertilizer products.

-- Allowing emissions from the facility to escape outdoors.

-- Having a malfunctioning chute that allowed emissions to escape during product loading

-- Failing to follow best engineering practices by keeping doors open while off-loading fertilizer into trucks.

-- Failing to keep the south haul road swept to control dust.

-- Failing to conduct compliance tests of regulated equipment on schedule.

-- Failing to notify the state environment department of the installation of new equipment

-- Failed to monitor differential pressure in inches of water across the dust collection system during two periods of time.

-- Neglecting to conduct inspections of building enclosures and to keep records of those inspections.

-- Failing to use proper methods of observing emissions during various operations.

-- Neglecting to maintain daily and annual production rates for emissions limits.

Source: New Mexico Environment Department


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