CertainTeed Corp. will pay $365,500 in civil penalties to settle alleged violations of the Safe Drinking Water Act at its vinyl siding manufacturing plant in Westlake, La., which had no approved source of drinking water for its employees for years.
The Malvern, Pa.-based building products company failed to correct "significant deficiencies" identified during a sanitary survey of the Lake Charles plant by the Louisiana Department of Health (LDH). The violations included failure to provide approved and permitted drinking water for the 43 employees as well as failure to monitor and test for contaminants that can result in adverse health effects.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which also inspected the site, says the settlement calls for "the largest civil penalty payment under the Safe Drinking Water Act by a public water system with respect to drinking water in the state of Louisiana."
"This is an excellent example of the EPA and Louisiana working together to ensure compliance with safe drinking water standards," EPA Region 6 Compliance Assurance and Enforcement Director Cheryl Seager said in an Aug. 24 news release. "We are committed to protecting the public health and will not hesitate to hold companies accountable who refuse to comply with the law."
The health department identified the significant deficiencies, which were related to drinking water treatment requirements, in December 2012, and EPA issued CertainTeed an administrative order in May 2014 to correct them. EPA conducted a follow-up inspection in June 2015 and found several areas of concern.
"The facility has no state-approved source of potable water. The potable water system is being fed from nonpotable sources," EPA's June 9, 2015, inspection report said.
The report also takes CertainTeed to task for not having the water system supervised by a certified operator.
CertainTeed reportedly has three wells at the site. The easternmost, which was designated as the potable water source to serve five buildings and emergency wash stations, was damaged by Hurricane Rita in September 2005. The north and south wells reportedly were nonpotable and used to fill large tanks for the fire suppression system and cooling towers.
The exact time that the drinking water well was abandoned wasn't determined by investigators. The 2015 EPA report says plant operators then used a 1-inch pipe to pull water from the fire suppression system, which was supplied by the industrial wells, to a liquid chlorinator.
Liquid chlorine was used to disinfect the water. There was no filtration and no pipe backflow prevention to keep chlorinated water from going back into the fire suppression system tanks, according to EPA.
A ¾-inch pipe "coming from the chlorine tank" then supplied buildings, eye wash stations and emergency showers throughout the facility. Several utility operators took daily chlorine residuals.
EPA gave CertainTeed several options in June 2015 to address the concerns. The company could rehabilitate the eastern well or make one of the other wells suitable for potable water. CertainTeed took more than four years to address the violations, despite numerous enforcement efforts by EPA and the state of Louisiana, including letters from the LDH, a joint inspection by LDH and EPA, and an EPA administrative order, according to an Aug. 24 EPA news release.
In an emailed statement to Plastics News, CertainTeed said the plant has installed a new drinking water well and has taken steps to ensure compliance going forward.
"The safety of its employees, the environment and the communities it serves is a top priority for CertainTeed," the company said.
With estimated profile sales of $680 million, CertainTeed is the fifth-largest pipe, profile and tubing manufacturer in North America, according to Plastics News' latest ranking.
CertainTeed is a subsidiary of Cie de Saint-Gobain SA, which is based in France and has more than 6,300 employees and 60 manufacturing facilities in the U.S. and Canada. The group saw sales of $3.7 billion in 2017.
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