Hercules agrees to pay $14,000 for ammonia leak

Published 10:04 am Wednesday, June 29, 2011

FRANKLIN—A Franklin-area company will pay $14,014 in penalties for ammonia-contaminated water that leaked into canals that feed the Nottoway River.

Ashland Hercules, which makes chemicals for manufacturing paper, entered into an agreement with the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality for the Sept. 16 incident that resulted in the death of enough minnows and small fish to fill four five-gallon buckets. The fish were found in a canal that leads to the Nottoway.

The contaminant didn’t make it to the river, said Paul Smith, enforcement specialist with DEQ in Virginia Beach.

“They took some water samples, and there didn’t seem to be lingering effects,” Smith said.

Ashland Hercules owns the facility at 27123 Shady Brook Trail south of Franklin and holds the water discharge permit. Eastman Chemical owns the chemical-production machinery.

According to DEQ:

A Hercules plant operator discovered the dead fish in two discharge canals on the evening of Sept. 16. The discharge was reported to DEQ the morning of Sept. 17.

A Hercules representative reported that the cause of the non-permitted discharge was a leak in a cooler pipe that was part of Eastman’s ammonia refrigeration system. The cooler was taken off line as soon as the leak was discovered and repaired.

Sean Maconaghy, environmental health and safety manager for Hercules, referred questions to Eastman Chemical.

“I will say from our standpoint, because it is our permit, we would not allow them to start back up until they corrected the problem to our satisfaction,” Maconaghy said. “We take our environmental stewardship very seriously.”

Eastman acknowledged the leak was in a cooler in the ammonia refrigeration system.

“We quickly investigated the cause and isolated and replaced the cooler,” said Wanda Valentine, who works in corporate communications for the Kingsport, Tenn., company. “We regret the discharge. The material diluted quickly, and there was no danger to human health and no long-term effects to aquatic life.”

“We take great care in our day-to-day operations to protect the river,” Valentine added. “We have a strong environmental management system in place and continually work at improving it.”