Press Release

BALTIMORE (January 4, 1999) -- The Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) assessed a $75,000 civil penalty against the Condea Vista Company for nuisance and other air pollution violations resulting from an October 13 explosion and fire at the company's organic chemical products facility at 3441 Fairfield Avenue, Baltimore. The penalty was part of a consent agreement signed by MDE and Condea Vista.

MDE's investigation of the October 13 explosion and fire found that Condea Vista's operations team, while conducting maintenance operations, had directed the injection of steam into its R-2 reactor to clear aluminum chloride sludge and aluminum solids that had plugged the bottom of the reactor vessel. Immediately following the injection of steam, the reactor over-pressurized and exploded.

The explosion caused the uncontrolled release of hydrogen chloride, benzene, aluminum chloride, aluminum oxide and soot into the atmosphere. The reactor was used in the linear alkyl benzene production process. The department cited Condea Vista for the illegal discharge of visible emissions, failing to take reasonable precautions to prevent the release of particulate matter from becoming airborne and that the emissions released created a nuisance and air pollution in violation of Maryland law.

In addition to the penalty, the company is required to utilize the services of a qualified independent consultant to review and evaluate all tasks and operations that involve clearing, cleaning, neutralization and/or chemical cleaning of vessels or pipes containing aluminum chloride. The purpose of this is to ensure that safe procedures are in place and that the operating procedures prohibit the use of steam in the presence of aluminum chloride.

Condea Vista also must complete a review of its facility procedures on a plant-wide basis. It also must utilize the services of a qualified independent consultant to perform "Process Safety Evaluations" for each section of the plant to identify changes in processes or procedures necessary to reduce the potential for future accidental releases.

After entering into the consent order and taking corrective action, Condea Vista received a temporary operating permit from MDE after providing documentation of its corrective actions. Reports and schedules will be available for public inspection to the extent allowed by law.