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U.S., ARIZONA REACH ENVIRONMENTAL AGREEMENTS WITH TRW VEHICLE SAFETY SYSTEMS INC.

Release Date: 01/18/2001
Contact Information:







UNITED STATES ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE EPA: (202) 564-7819
THURSDAY, JANUARY 18, 2001 DOJ: (202) 514-2008
TDD (202) 514-1888

U.S., ARIZONA REACH ENVIRONMENTAL AGREEMENTS
WITH TRW VEHICLE SAFETY SYSTEMS INC.

Criminal Plea Agreement and Civil Settlement Call for Airbag Manufacturer to Pay $17.6 Million in Fines for Illegally Handling Hazardous Waste

WASHINGTON, D.C. – TRW Vehicle Safety Systems Inc., will resolve charges that it violated hazardous waste laws at its airbag manufacturing plant in Queen Creek, Ariz., under a civil settlement and criminal plea agreement announced today by the United States and the State of Arizona.

Vehicle Safety Systems Inc. (VSSI), a wholly owned subsidiary of TRW Inc., agreed to plead guilty to federal and state criminal charges in plea agreements with the United States and Arizona filed today in Phoenix. The Michigan-based company will pay a $6 million criminal penalty to the United States and a $6 million criminal penalty to Arizona. The plea agreements also require VSSI to establish an environmental management system at two airbag factories in Arizona and one in Nevada.

In a separate action, VSSI has agreed to pay a $5.6 million civil penalty that will be divided equally between the United States and Arizona under a civil settlement filed today in U.S. District Court in Phoenix. This agreement, filed by the U.S. Justice Department and the Arizona Attorney General on behalf of the EPA and the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, obligates VSSI to perform more than $5.7 million worth of projects to enhance the environment and contribute $1.5 million to clean up the Butterfield landfill in Mobile, Ariz., that is contaminated with hazardous waste produced by VSSI.

“These two vigorous enforcement actions superbly demonstrate how the federal government and states can partner to achieve significant environmental benefits," said Steve Herman, EPA’s Assistant Administrator for Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. "These settlements also serve as a warning to other companies that mismanage hazardous waste. If you break the law, you will pay the penalty."

VSSI uses sodium azide, a toxic and potentially volatile compound, to manufacture vehicle airbag restraint systems. Sodium azide is a component of the propellant that inflates the airbag.

The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act requires companies that produce, store, transport and dispose of hazardous waste to manage the waste in accordance with regulatory requirements. The civil settlement filed today settles claims that VSSI failed to meet these requirements.

In the criminal plea agreement filed today, the company admitted that it knew the Butterfield landfill was not authorized to accept such waste and that the sodium azide-contaminated waste was potentially harmful to the public and the environment. VSSI also admitted that it knew it was illegal to store this waste onsite at its factory without a permit.

The plea agreement directs VSSI to create and maintain for three years an environmental compliance plan at its three plants, to ensure that the company does not commit more violations of the type it admitted to today. As part of the plan, VSSI will hire an auditor to evaluate its operations and report to state and federal regulators. The plea agreement also directs VSSI to pay for full-page ads in Arizona newspapers, within 10 days after the Court accepts the plea, describing the company’s illegal actions, its conviction, and the preventative steps it will take in the future.

“Companies that work with the most hazardous materials cannot duck their legal obligation to protect the public and the environment,” said Lois Schiffer, the Assistant Attorney General for the Environment at the Justice Department.

As part of the civil settlement, VSSI will complete a comprehensive assessment of its facility, determine whether corrective measures are needed to address pollution, and undertake any necessary measures at the site, such as closing surface impoundments and related sumps and tanks. The cleanup of this site is estimated to cost up to $12 million.

The civil settlement also calls for VSSI to pay $1.5 million toward clean up of hazardous waste contamination at the Butterfield landfill. Waste Management of Arizona, owner of the landfill, has agreed to undertake the cleanup of that site, and this commitment is incorporated in the civil settlement filed today.

The civil settlement also requires the company to conduct several environmental projects that will provide water conservation benefits and an emergency "911" notification system for the citizens of Maricopa County. Other projects include improvements to VSSI’s facilities that are not legally required, but will reduce the amount of hazardous waste generated or disposed of by VSSI, minimize spills, and ensure that hazardous waste will not reach the soil or groundwater.

The criminal case was investigated by the EPA Criminal Investigative Division and the Arizona Attorney General’s Office.

The civil settlement is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final approval by the Court. The plea agreement also must be approved by the Court. A fact sheet is attached.

R-17 # # #
____________________________________________________________________
TRW Vehicle Safety Systems, Inc. Civil Judicial Settlement/Criminal Plea
Fact Sheet
January 18, 2001

On January 18, the Department of Justice, on behalf of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) announced a civil settlement and criminal plea with TRW Vehicle Safety Systems Inc. (VSSI) that will resolve charges the airbag manufacturer violated the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) at its Mesa, Arizona, facilities.

VSSI, a wholly owned subsidiary of TRW Inc., based in Cleveland, has agreed to pay a $5.67 million civil penalty that will be divided equally between the United States and Arizona under the settlement filed today in U.S. District Court in Phoenix, and pay a $12 million criminal penalty ($6 million to federal government and $6 million to the State of Arizona) for pleading guilty to RCRA violations.

The settlement announced today sets the model for federal-state environmental enforcement and is the largest combined joint civil and criminal settlement under RCRA. The settlement also requires the company to conduct several environmental projects that will provide water conservation benefits and an emergency “911" notification system for the citizens of Maricopa County among other environmentally beneficial projects.

Company: Headquartered in Cleveland, Ohio, VSSI is an owner/operator of airbag manufacturing facilities. The civil judicial settlement involves two VSSI manufacturing facilities near Mesa, Arizona that manufacture sodium-azide-based propellant, which inflate vehicle airbags.

Environmental Benefits: This settlement will prevent future environmental harm such as fires and explosions that occurred in the past due to VSSI’s mismanagement and misidentification of hazardous waste. The settlement also will ensure that future waste will be properly identified as hazardous and not shipped to solid waste facilities as was VSSI’s past practice.

Violations: It is alleged that VSSI violated RCRA and Arizona state law requirements pertaining to characterizing, manifesting and disposing of hazardous wastes. Specifically, VSSI generated:
    1. Wastewater containing sodium azide, a listed hazardous waste (P105), which can be explosive; and
    2. Certain dusts and wastewater generated from VSSI's processes are reactive hazardous wastes (D003-sodium azide when mixed with water forms hydrazoic acid, which can lead to an explosion).

VSSI failed to properly identify its hazardous waste and, thus, mismanaged the hazardous waste on-site and illegally shipped and disposed of the hazardous waste off-site (e.g., shipped to a subtitle D landfill).

Co-Plaintiffs: The State of Arizona has joined in this settlement.

Civil Settlement Terms:

1. Civil Penalty: VSSI has agreed to pay a civil penalty of $5.67 million. The penalty will be split equally between the EPA and the State of Arizona.

2. Injunctive Relief ($16 million): VSSI will conduct on-site and off-site remediation for soil and groundwater contamination.

a. Onsite remediation ($12 million), VSSI will:
      • Assess and remediate all contamination soil and groundwater to meet applicable state and federal standards. In accordance with State Arizona, VSSI will file an environmental use deed restriction for those areas at the facility that do not meet residential soil remediation standards.
      • Improve wastewater management to prevent future storage violations and disposal.

b. Off-site remediation ($3-4 million), VSSI will:
        • Fund remediation activities at Butterfield Station Landfill in Mobile, Arizona. The remediation includes enclosing the illegally disposed of hazardous waste into a synthetically lined capsule or isolation cell and placing the waste at the bottom of the landfill. Other soils at the landfill that were contaminated by the leachate from the illegally disposed of hazardous waste and have a significantly lower concentration of sodium azide will be placed at the bottom of the landfill and used as foundational material. This landfill cell will be monitored continuously to ensure that none of the hazardous waste material migrates from the new cell.
        • Waste Management of Arizona, owner of the landfill, and a party in the consent decree, has agreed to undertake the cleanup of that site (estimated to cost $1.5 million).

3. Waste Reclamation: VSSI plans to recycle its evaporator concentrate wastewater treatment sludge, a reactive hazardous waste. To recycle the evaporator concentrate wastewater treatment sludge at American Azide (a non-TSD facility) in Utah, VSSI needs to apply for a solid waste variance under 40 C.F.R. Section 260.31(c).

4. Supplemental Environmental Projects (Approximately $5.7 million):

a. $2.5 million for Community Emergency Notification System ("Reverse 911") for Maricopa County. Maricopa County is one of Arizona's largest counties and includes the cities of Mesa and Phoenix.

b. $840,000 for wastewater pollution prevention project at VSSI's manufacturing facilities. VSSI will implement a reuse of wastewater project that will result in treated wastewater being used by its Mesa and Reno, Nevada facilities.

c. $2.39 million for the installation of wastewater storage and collection upgrades at its Mesa facility. The upgrades include expanded exterior water collection trends to collect storm and deluge water and impermeable coating of certain trenches.

Terms of Criminal Plea:
      • $12 million fine ($6 million to U.S. government and $6 million to State of Arizona)
      • Five years probation
      • Implement and maintain an environmental management system to prevent future environmental violations
      • Comply with remediation requirement of the civil consent decree
      • Publish a letter of public apology admitting the violations