Environmental Integrity Project and Clean Air Council Sue Shell Polymers Monaca Plant Near Pittsburgh to Halt Illegal Emissions of Smog-Forming Pollutants
Pittsburgh — The Environmental Integrity Project and Clean Air Council filed a federal lawsuit against Shell today for repeatedly violating permitted air pollution limits from a massive new plastics production plant northwest of Pittsburgh, which opened last year.
In a lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, the environmental groups called for strict penalties and a halt to the illegal release of smog-forming pollutants from the Shell Polymers Monaca plant in Beaver County, on the banks of the Ohio River.
“Shell received $1.6 billion in taxpayer subsidies from the state to build this plant. The very least this international corporation can do is to follow the law and not make Pennsylvania taxpayers breathe in their illegal pollution,” said Sarah Kula, attorney for the Environmental Integrity Project.
Joseph Minott, Executive Director of the Clean Air Council, said: “Shell’s persistent law-breaking must end. The community will not tolerate dangerous pollution events that risk the health of families across Beaver County and beyond.”
The roughly $6 billion Shell Monaca plant transforms a product of natural gas (ethane), extracted through hydraulic fracturing in the region’s shale formations, into tiny plastic pellets used to manufacture single-use plastic goods like soda bottles and plastic packaging.
The plant has repeatedly violated limits that must be met on a 12-month rolling basis for nitrogen oxide (NOx) and volatile organic compound (VOC) air pollution, which contribute to smog, asthma attacks, and lung disease, according to state records and the lawsuit. The VOCs include benzene, a known carcinogen.
The facility has also shaken the surrounding community by releasing clouds of black smoke from its flares during malfunctions and odors that have caused residents to feel sick.
Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) records show 12 state notices of air pollution violations at the Shell plant since January of 2022, but no enforcement actions or penalties by the state.
State records also show that Shell submitted 39 reports of malfunctions at the plant during the same time period, including flaring on February 13 that released large plumes of black smoke and flames for hours during an “upset” incident in the ethylene cracking unit.
The most recent problems at the Shell plant include an accident on April 11, when a malfunction at its wastewater treatment plant released high levels of benzene, as measured by fenceline air monitors. The air monitors measured benzene as high as 185 micrograms per cubic meter – which is more than six times higher than federal guidelines for short-term exposure to this pollutant.
Local residents reported strong odors, headaches, watery eyes, irritated throats, and nausea during the benzene release incident.
Because of all the violations and ongoing problems at the plant, the Clean Air Council and Environmental Integrity Project sent a letter to DEP on February 17 urging the state to temporarily halt operations at the Shell plastics plant to protect the health of nearby residents.
The same day, the groups sent Shell a notice of intent to sue for violating, within a few months, the chemical plant’s 12-month permit limit on nitrogen oxides. Previously, the groups sent Shell another notice on February 2 because of other violations of the plant’s air permit, including a violation of prohibition on certain “visible emissions,” including black smoke from flares.
Under the federal Clean Air Act, plaintiffs must send notices of intent to sue at least 60 days before filing a complaint in federal court.
“The repeated and ongoing … violations at the plant harm the health and disrupt the lives of the (Clean Air Council’s) members and other individuals who live, go to school, recreate, and work near the plant,” the lawsuit filed today states.
For a copy of the lawsuit, click here.
The Environmental Integrity Project is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, based in Washington, D.C., and Austin, TX, that is dedicated to enforcing environmental laws and strengthening policies to protect public health and the environment. For more information, please visit www.environmentalintegrity.org.
Clean Air Council is a member-supported, non-profit environmental organization dedicated to protecting everyone’s right to a healthy environment. The Council has offices in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Wilmington, and works through public education, community advocacy, and government oversight to ensure enforcement of environmental laws. For more information, please visit www.cleanair.org
Ari Phillips, Environmental Integrity Project, (202) 263-4456 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Leeannah McNew, Clean Air Council, (443) 465-9556 or email@example.com