Acme Brick faces a state penalty after the scrubber on its smokestack failed in August 2015, triggering a week of emissions that included tons of sulfur dioxide and hydrogen fluoride.
Beginning Aug. 11, 2015, and continuing for 176 hours, Acme’s smokestack emitted hydrogen fluoride and sulfur dioxide, according to state documents. Both are byproducts of combustion and can irritate the lungs when inhaled.
Although there are no studies identifying either substance as cancer-causing or harmful to the nervous system, they are hard on plants and can cause bleaching and brown spots on foliage.
Acme officials said the problem began when a spring 2015 thunderstorm damaged a scrubber in the plant’s smoke stack, leading to release of toxic chemicals. Scrubbers act like a filter removing pollutants from smoke as it comes out of the smoke stack.
According to Mary Ann Keon, environmental health and safety director for Acme Brick, the plant tried to address the problem without shutting down production throughout summer 2015. When they realized they had to take it offline, they notified the corporate office they would start the maintenance work.
Keon said corporate officials notified Texas Commission on Environmental Quality immediately upon learning of the maintenance plans. The TCEQ is the state agency responsible for controlling water and air pollution.
“They require notice 10 days prior to maintenance activities,” Keon said. “So it was really a reporting error.”
Acme officials agreed to an enforcement order requiring them to pay $6,751 of a $8,438 fine to TCEQ. The rest of the fine was deferred after Acme agreed to settle the matter quickly. Commissioners are expected to approve the order during a Jan. 18 meeting in Austin.
As part of the settlement with the state, Acme agreed to the penalty and to take two corrective steps in August 2015.
First, the company agreed to update its maintenance procedures to ensure crews follow the manufacturer’s recommendations to keep the scrubbers working properly. The company also agreed to designate an employee to oversee those maintenance activities to make sure what happened in August 2015 does not happen again.
Second, the company agreed to update its internal communication procedures so someone notifies the state at least 10 days before a similar event in the future. In other words, when company employees plan to do maintenance work that could result in reportable emissions, they must tell TCEQ in advance.
Acme Brick is one of 26 companies in Denton County required to report emissions and other toxic releases as part of the national Toxics Release Inventory in 2015.
The federal inventory notifies the public of releases in communities and has helped reduce the use of toxic chemicals. Acme reported adding 10,948 pounds of hydrogen fluoride to the inventory in 2015. According to state records, 1,363 pounds of that hydrogen fluoride was emitted during the August event.
The company employs about 185 people at its manufacturing plant in Denton. Owned by Berkshire Hathaway, Acme’s corporate headquarters is in Fort Worth. The company manufactures bricks, tile and pavers at plants in seven states.