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Aerogel Maker Gets $85M Pollution Tab

Thursday, November 21, 2013

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Honored just recently for its insulaton technology, Cabot Corp. has now agreed to pay a $975,000 fine and spend about $84 million on new equipment to resolve alleged federal air-pollution violations at three of its U.S. plants.

The settlement addresses federal complaints against Boston-based Cabot, the second-largest carbon black manufacturer in the United States, for years of unpermitted changes to its facilities.

Cabot is the manufacturer of a lightweight insulating aerogel that just took the year's top honor for "Best Overall Innovation" at the ICIS Innovation Awards. The aerogel, likened to "frozen smoke," also was named the "Innovation with Best Environmental Benefit."

Cabot Corp.

Cabot Corp. is a global specialty chemicals and performance materials company.

In addition to aerogel, Cabot manufactures global specialty chemicals and performance materials, including rubber additives for tires and brake pads, activated carbon for air purifiers, and inkjet colorants.

Permitting Dispute

In a 30-page Complaint filed by the Department of Justice on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency, the government alleged that between 2003 and 2009, Cabot made major modifications at its carbon black facilities without obtaining pre-construction permits and without installing and operating required pollution technology.

The modifications resulted in increased emissions of nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide, the government said. Companies must obtain the necessary permits before making modifications at a facility and must install and operate required pollution control equipment if the modifications will result in increases of certain pollutants.

Settlement discussions in the case have been underway since 2010, the EPA said.

Cabot Corp.

The company will spend about $84 million on new emissions control technology at three plants in Louisiana and Texas.

The 93-page Consent Decree, announced Tuesday (Nov. 19), resolves alleged violations of the New Source Review (NSR) provisions of the Clean Air Act at its three facilities in Franklin and Ville Platte, LA. and Pampa, TX.

Both the Complaint and Consent Decree are available here.

Settlement Terms

At all three facilities, the settlement requires that Cabot:

  • Optimize existing controls for particulate matter or soot;
  • Operate an “early warning” detection system to alert facility operators to any particulate matter releases; and
  • Comply with a plan to control “fugitive emissions” from leaks or unintended releases of gases.

To address nitrogen oxide (NOx) pollution, Cabot must install selective catalytic reduction technology to significantly reduce emissions, install continuous monitoring, and comply with stringent limits.


Cabot Corp.'s hydrophobic aerogel is described as a high-performance insulating solid material in particle form. The product has been used in plaster, boards, daylighting systems, tensile roofing and coatings.

At the two larger facilities in Louisiana, Cabot must address sulfur dioxide (SO2) pollution by installing wet gas scrubbers to control emissions, install continuous monitoring, and comply with stringent emissions limits. The Texas plant must also comply with a limit on the amount of sulfur in feedstock that is the lowest for any carbon black plant in the United States.

The measures are expected to reduce NOx emissions by about 1,975 tons per year, SO2 emissions by about 12,380 tons per year, and significantly improve controls on particulate matter, which can be breathed in and lodged deep in the lungs, leading to a variety of health problems and even premature death near the facilities and far downwind.

Carbon Black Crackdown

The agreement is the first to result from a national enforcement initiative aimed at bringing carbon black manufacturers into compliance with these provisions. It is also part of EPA's national enforcement initiative to control air pollution from the largest sources of emissions.

Wikimedia Commons / FK1954

Cabot Corp. is the second-largest producer of carbon black in the United States.

EPA praised Cabot's action in resolving the issue.

“With today’s commitment to invest in pollution controls, Cabot has raised the industry standard for environmental protection,” said Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance.

“These upgrades will have lasting, tangible impacts on improved respiratory health for local communities. We expect others in the industry to take notice and realize their obligation to protect the communities in which they operate.”


Tagged categories: Air quality; Cabot Corp.; Citations; Coatings manufacturers; Emissions; Enforcement; Environmental Protection; Health and safety; Insulating coatings; Regulations

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