Regulators reach settlement with PCS Nitrogen to remedy hazardous waste issues at former Ascension Parish facility

Staff Report

The Environmental Protection Agency, the Justice Department, and the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality announced a settlement with PCS Nitrogen Fertilizer, L.P. to remedy hazardous waste issues at its former fertilizer manufacturing facility in the Geismar area of Ascension Parish.

The PCS Nitrogen gypsum pile in Geismar is shown in an Associated Press file photo.

PCS Nitrogen will provide over $84 million of financial assurance to secure the full cost of closure and pay a civil penalty of $1,510,023, according to an EPA news release.

This settlement resolves alleged violations of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act at the facility, including that PCS Nitrogen failed to properly identify and manage certain waste streams as hazardous wastes.

The hazardous wastes were illegally mixed with process wastewater and phosphogypsum from phosphoric acid production. The resulting mixture of wastes was disposed of in surface impoundments.

The settlement requires PCS Nitrogen to treat over 1 billion pounds of acidic hazardous process wastewater over the next several years.

The acidic hazardous process wastewaters will be contained in the phosphogypsum stack system and then treated in the newly constructed water treatment plant.

The settlement also regulates the long-term closure of PCS Nitrogen’s phosphogypsum stacks and surface impoundments for over 50 years and requires PCS Nitrogen to ensure that financial resources will be available for environmentally sound closure of the facility. 

PCS Nitrogen manufactured phosphate products in Louisiana for agriculture and industry from the 1960s to 2018, including phosphoric acid and phosphate fertilizer, through processes that generated large quantities of acidic wastewater and a solid material called phosphogypsum.

The phosphogypsum was deposited and remains in large piles (some over 100 acres large and 200 feet high) referred to as phosphogypsum stacks. Acidic wastewaters are stored in the phosphogypsum stacks and surface impoundments. The facility is now undergoing closure.

The settlement requires PCS Nitrogen to comply with RCRA requirements to make RCRA hazardous waste determinations and properly manage all hazardous wastes in its phosphogypsum stacks and surface impoundments.

The EPA has completed judicial and administrative settlements with thirteen phosphate fertilizer facilities across the United States, all requiring extensive injunctive relief and financial assurance to bring their operations into compliance with RCRA.

"Nutrien has long been cooperating with State and Federal authorities, and these settlements formally document the work Nutrien has done, and continues to do, as part of the permanent closure of the phosphate processing facility and associated gypsum stacks, including the ongoing treatment of the wastewater as required," Richard Holder, GM, Nutrien Geismar, said in a statement.