Clean Harbors, DEQ settle for $605,000

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The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and Clean Harbors Colfax, LLC reached a settlement for $605,000 over operations at the hazardous waste treatment facility going back as far as five years ago.
In 2020, the Times published a report that state regulators were threatening to deny a vital permit to the company that burns and detonates explosive material in the open air. The company was advised to consider other, more environmentally safe ways of doing business. Since 1985, the 43-acre private facility near Colfax, in Grant Parish, has been allowed to burn munitions and explosive chemicals during daylight hours. The burned material includes propellant for car air bags, solid rocket fuel, Claymore mines, 20- and 40-millimeter artillery shells, TNT and black powder.
The settlement was agreed to in principal earlier this year and received the approval of the office of the Louisiana Attorney General Feb. 28. Attorney General approval is required under state law. Clean Harbor’s attorney signed the agreement Feb. 1 and DEQ officials signed March 8 in Baton Rouge.
The Clean Harbor facility is located off US Hwy. 71 on LA 471 between Iatt and Nantachie Lakes.
Celena Cage, Assistant Secretary of the Office of Environmental Compliance, signed the document for DEQ that was also approved by Lourdes Iturralde, DEQ Assistant Secretary.
Clean Harbor has 10 days, or until March 18, from notice of the DEQ Secretary’s signature to submit payment. If payment is not received within that time, the agreement is voidable at the option of DEQ.
According to documents, the agreement was made in the interest of settling the state’s claims and avoiding both parties the expense and effort involved in litigation or an adjudicatory hearing.
The settlement includes Clean Harbor not making any admission of liability under state statue or regulations.
Of the total settlement, $44,611 represents DEQ’s enforcement costs. The total amount of monies expended by Clean Harbor on cash payments to the department shall be considered a civil penalty for tax purposes.
The settlement covers DEQ Consolidated Compliance Order and Notice of Potential Penalty issued to Clean Harbor dating back to Oct. 27, 2016. There were a total of 10 notices issued to Clean Harbor from 2016-19. The first one was in October 2016. There were two in 2017, four in 2017 and three in 2019.
Clean Harbor contends they made timely requests for hearings.
The settlement also resolves 15 warning letters from DEQ to Clean Harbor. In April 2020, DEQ issued nine warnings. They all had to do with exceeding the permitted smoldering time. The facility is permitted for 45-minute smoldering limits, but in all 10 instances the recorded smoldering time was 49 minutes. In the settlement, Clean Harbor reported personnel were retrained on the permit conditions to ensure there is no recurrence of the issue.
This settlement also covers violations found at the plant following an inspection on or about June 30, 2020. Clean Harbor, however, denied it committed any violations or that it was libel for any fines, forfeitures and/or penalties.
The inspection cited Clean Harbor failed to property remedy, upon discovery, deterioration or malfunction of equipment or structures associated with the hazardous waste permitted Thermal Treatment Area. Specifically it pointed to several cracks and gaps in the concrete curbing/containment area, metal covering inhibiting the inspection of the pad wall of or treatment pads designated as No. 1, 9, 10 and 20, and deterioration/damage, including cracks, gaps and missing structural components, to pads designated at No. 1, 9, 10, 12 and 13.
The inspection also noted Clean Harbor failed to adequately prevent residue and debris from contaminating the surrounding area. Specifically, the settlement claims ash was observed on the soil outside the Thermal Treatment Area’s secondary containment wall near treatment pads. The gaps and cracks, observed in the concrete slab, provided a potential conduit for ash to contaminate the soil below.

This article published in the March 17, 2022, print edition

The DEQ inspection also pointed out Clean Harbor failed to label or clearly mark waste batteries, or a container storing waste batteries, and there were eight spent vehicle batteries in an open train not labeled as required.
The inspection also claimed there was a failure to record the date and nature of repairs associated with the hazardous-waster permitted Thermal Treatment area.
In February 2020 The Times reported on Brenda Vallee of Colfax and J.W Scarborough of Natchitoches’ concerns about the fall out – literally – of airborne toxic residue from the Clean Harbors burn site. Vallee said that residents near Colfax were exhibiting respiratory issues. “The winds blow fumes and particles toward Natchitoches,” she said in 2020. They were also concerned about the local people who work there. “There are less than 15 employees there and they make very high salaries,” Vallee said at the time. She added that the salary rates are a direct reflection of the dangers associated with the site.
Clean Harbors has regional headquarters in Baton Rouge.