Radioactive Pollution in Illinois: Honeywell Pleads Guilty, Gets $11.8M Fine

Honeywell photo

BLW Photography via flickr

While all eyes are on Japan and a few eyes are on nuclear plants in the U.S., there's other news on the radiation front, this story coming out of southern Illinois. Honeywell pled guilty earlier this month to one felony offense for "knowingly storing hazardous waste without a permit," and was sentenced to pay a criminal fine of $11.8 million.Here are details from a Dept. of Justice press release:

Honeywell, a Delaware corporation with corporate headquarters in Morristown, N.J., owns and operates a uranium hexafluoride (UF6) conversion facility in Massac County, Ill., near the city of Metropolis and the Ohio River. Honeywell is licensed by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to possess and otherwise manage natural uranium, which it converts into UF6 for nuclear fuel. The Metropolis facility is the only facility in the United States to convert natural uranium into UF6.

At the Metropolis facility, air emissions from the UF6 conversion process are scrubbed with potassium hydroxide (KOH) prior to discharge. As a result of this process, KOH scrubbers and associated equipment accumulate uranium compounds that settle out of the liquid and are pumped as a slurry into 55-gallon drums. The drummed material, called "KOH mud" and consisting of uranium and KOH, has a pH greater than or equal to 12.5...

Honeywell needed, but did not have, a RCRA permit to store any drums of KOH mud at its facility longer than 90 days.

The pH level of greater than 12.5 means the waste is classified as corrosive and hazardous.

Things came to a head a few years later:

In April 2009, EPA special agents conducted a search warrant and found nearly 7,500 illegally stored drums containing waste that was both radioactive and hazardous. Honeywell began storing the KOH mud drums in compliance with the terms of its RCRA permit in approximately March 2010.

In These Times has a story that puts these events into a context that highlights the importance of unions:

Workers played a key role in making sure that mud wasn't stored radioactively.

Over the years, workers notified Honeywell of the problem on many occasions. At a town hall meeting in 2007, John Jacobs, a union employee, confronted Honeywell CEO David Cote about the matter in person. An upset David Cote quickly ended the meeting when several workers said if something wasn't done, they would notify the company. Workers later did play a role in blowing the whistle on the lockout.

Many in the union feel that this particular incident led to Cote's desire to lockout union workers and attempt to bust the union at Honeywell.

This could explain why Cote has spent $60 million to keep the workers locked out, when it would only cost $20 million over the course of their contract to provide what the workers wanted.

It then also looks back to the Triangle Waist fire, the 100th anniversary of which will be marked tomorrow, to show how crucial unions are for worker—and oftentimes environmental—safety.

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