Gramercy refinery faces DEQ emissions fine

Published 11:45 pm Friday, February 20, 2015

GRAMERCY — A Gramercy refinery could be facing a state fine as the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality nears an enforcement decision after mercury emissions the company was not permitted for were reported.

The Noranda alumina refinery, located between Airline Highway and River Road near the West Bank bound approach to the Veterans Memorial Bridge, self-reported the emissions a year ago and has been working with the state since March to model what is being discharged, company and state officials said.

“We certainly don’t believe there is any danger to the community,” Noranda Vice-President of Communication John Parker said.

According to Parker, Noranda officials were conducting a significant repair project in March on part of the plant that has to do with heat transfer and opened a component that had not been opened in 14 years.

At that time, they discovered aerial omissions of mercury in elemental form, for which the company was not permitted.

DEQ Press Secretary Greg Langley said Noranda officials are required to submit modeling so the state can account for any kind of mercury emissions.

“We’re also going to go back and look at whatever has been admitted,” Langley said. “They may be subject to some action there, because you can’t release mercury without a permit. I don’t know what the action may be at this point. Our enforcement department is looking at that.

“We’re probably getting near to something by now. They have to go through some considerable effort and expense to put together this modeling.”

Gramercy Mayor Steve Nosacka said he and Town Council members are monitoring the situation.

“We haven’t had any concerns raised by residents,” he said, adding town officials are looking forward to examining the state’s enforcement decision.

Langley said the permitting breakdown occurred because there was an air emission, and Louisiana maintains an ambient air standard for mercury.

“Obviously, (Noranda has) got some business with permits and they will also have some business with enforcement, because they’ll take a look at what mercury may have been admitted in the past,” Langley said.

According to Langley’s understanding, Noranda’s Gramercy facility is permitted for waterside emissions and is in compliance with those emissions.

“I believe we do sampling at an outflow,” he said. “That wasn’t an issue. The real issue was they released it into the atmosphere and did not have a permit to do that.”

Gramercy plant

Noranda is a multi-national company that gathers bauxite, which is red dirt, from its mining operation in Jamaica.

The bauxite is loaded onto ocean-going vessels and transported to the Gramercy refinery, where it is blasted with energy and caustic to covert it into a white sandy powder, Langley said, creating alumina.

Alumina is the key feedstock in the creation of aluminum. The alumina created in Gramercy is transported by barge to Noranda’s facility in New Madrid, Mo., where primary aluminum is produced.