PAnews.com, Port Arthur, Texas

January 27, 2007

TCEQ investigates BASF cooling towers

Mary Meaux

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has launched an investigation in response to a six car pile-up that occurred on Jan. 15 near BASF refinery.

On Monday, BASF officials will hold a press conference to show what measures have been done in to find a solution to the cooling towers steam issue that played a part in the multi-vehicle accident.

“The perception is that not much has been done and that’s not true,” Joe Arnold, BASF manager of community and government affairs, said.

Arnold said the company has spent million of dollars modifying the towers and placing highway signs to alert travelers of the steam. The press conference will help the public understand the cooling tower and that BASF “has been proactive and working to find a solution.”

The Jan. 15 accident left two people with minor injuries. At that time, police indicated that steam was blowing across the highway causing a thick fog and decreasing visibility of drivers. BASF employs off duty police officers and has flashing warning lights placed on both sides of the highway encouraging drivers to slow down.

According to TCEQ, BASF was fined for creating a traffic hazard on Nov. 29, 2001. The violation includes “failure to avoid discharging such quantities of uncombined water as to create a traffic hazard and interfere with normal road use. Specifically, investigators observed uncondensed water from BASF's cooling towers drifting onto Highway 73, causing impaired visibility, and a traffic accident on Nov. 29, 2001. An Agreed Order was entered on Nov. 2, 2002, and penalties were subsequently paid by BASF.”

The Beaumont Regional office of the TCEQ conducts daily visible emission and odor surveys in the Port Arthur and Beaumont area and on Jan. 18, documented a visual traffic hazard from the steam plume. The Beaumont Region is expecting to obtain the final police report around Jan. 29. Upon receiving the police reports from the Department of Public Safety, the Region will proceed with the appropriate enforcement action.