U.S. Water News Online
MINNEAPOLIS -- A federal judge has ordered Ashland Inc. to
pay more than $9.1 million in fines and restitution over an explosion
and fire at its refinery in St. Paul Park, and to pay millions more
to upgrade the refinery.
On May 16, 1997, workers were pumping hydrocarbons into the
refinery's sewer system for treatment and recycling when vapors
escaped through an improperly sealed manhole and ignited in a
fireball. A second explosion involving liquid that erupted from the
manhole injured six company firefighters, one very severely.
On May 13 of this year, federal prosecutors charged Ashland with
two vio lations under the Clean Air Act, and with submitting a false
statement to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency claiming the
sewer system complied with the Clean Air Act.
Under a plea bargain entered the same day, Ashland agreed to plead
guilty to two of the charges and to a deferred prosecution on the
With two of the injured workers in the courtroom, Ashland Vice
President Glenn Hammer apologized for the lapses that led to the
``We are truly sorry for the events of May 1997,'' Hammer told
U.S. District Judge James Rosenbaum. ``We take full responsibility.''
However, Rosenbaum was skeptical about the company's commitment to
comply with environmental laws, citing its history of violations.
``Why in the world should I believe you?'' Rosenbaum asked.
Hammer said the violations were old ones that have been corrected.
Nonetheless, Rosenbaum set aside $500,000 to pay for an independent
overseer to act as a sort of probation officer for Ashland for the
next five years.
Under the terms of the plea agreement, Rosenbaum sentenced Ashland
A $1.5 million criminal fine;
Ashland must also take out full-page ads in the Star Tribune and
St. Paul Pioneer Press to discuss the case, and must sponsor a
workshop during a national petroleum conference, dealing with federal
regulations for petroleum wastewater systems.
``It is our hope that this prosecution sends a strong message to
all companies that we will vigorously enforce the laws to protect not
only the environment but also the health of their employees and the
public,'' U.S. Attorney Thomas Heffelfinger said.
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