DuPont and Lucite International Inc. have agreed to pay a $2 million civil penalty to settle Clean Air Act violations at a sulfuric acid plant in Belle, W. Va., EPA, the U.S. Justice Department, and the state of West Virginia announced yesterday.

The sulfuric acid plant is located on a 100-acre chemical manufacturing complex along the Kanawha River. The plant is owned by Lucite and operated by DuPont. The companies will pay $1 million to the United States and $1 million to the state of West Virginia. Further, the companies chose on their own to shut down the sulfuric-acid manufacturing unit of a larger chemical facility at the site and the settlement confirms this agreement. Under the settlement, the sulfuric acid unit is scheduled to shut d own by April 1, 2010.

In a joint complaint, filed concurrently with the consent decree, the United States and West Virginia allege that the companies made modifications to their plant in 1996 without first obtaining pre-construction permits and installing required pollution control equipment. The Clean Air Act requires major sources of air pollution to obtain such permits before making changes that would result in a significant emissions increase of any pollutant.

The Belle sulfuric acid plant burns sulfuric acid sludge, which creates sulfur dioxide (SO2). Most of the SO2 is converted to sulfuric acid and recovered, but a portion of the chemical is emitted to the atmosphere. In addition to SO2, the plant also emits sulfuric acid mist, nitrogen dioxide and carbon monoxide.

SO2 can have serious health effects on children, the elderly, and people with heart and lung conditions, according to EPA. It also contributes to the formation of acid rain, which can affect ponds, lakes and streams. Acid rain has resulted in the acidification of waters in ponds, lakes, and streams, leading to the disappearance of animal and plant life, according to EPA. Acid rain is also believed to leach nutrients from sensitive soils and damage forests.

Sulfuric acid is widely used for ore processing, fertilizer manufacturing, oil refining, wastewater processing and chemical synthesis.