Biopharmaceutical Company to Pay $600K to Settle Alleged Clean Air Act Violations

March 10, 2021

A global biopharmaceutical company has agreed to pay $600,000 and limit its emissions of harmful air pollutants to settle allegations that it violated the Massachusetts Clean Air Act and regulations at its Lexington, Massachusetts, facility.

Of that amount, $200,000 will fund a project to purchase air filters for more than 500 homes in Chelsea, an environmental justice community that suffers from poor air quality due to numerous nearby sources of similar air pollutants, including industrial facilities, heavy highway and road traffic and Logan Airport.

“This company knowingly caused air pollution by failing to comply with regulations intended to protect public health,” Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey said in a statement issued by her office. “This settlement holds the company accountable and will result in long-term benefits to the air quality in hundreds of homes in Chelsea, a community in which vulnerable residents have been hard hit by the pandemic and subjected to a long history of environmental injustices.”

The consent judgment, filed in Suffolk Superior Court, settled allegations that Shire Human Genetic Therapies Inc. violated the state’s Clean Air Act and its regulations when Shire’s Lexington facility exceeded applicable emissions limits for volatile organic compounds (VOCs) established by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP).

VOCs are air pollutants that pose risks to public health, including through their contribution to the formation of ground level ozone, or smog, which can increase susceptibility to and exacerbate respiratory ailments and illnesses including asthma, according to the press release issued by the Attorney General’s Office.

“Shire is required to obtain air quality permits to regulate its operations, consistent with other pharmaceutical facilities operating in the Commonwealth, and when the company failed to do so, they potentially endangered the environment and the public health,” said Eric Worrall, director of MassDEP’s Northeast Regional Office in Wilmington, in the release.

The attorney general’s complaint alleges that, in 2014, Shire began increasing its use of surface disinfectants in its expanding manufacturing operations at its Lexington facility without first seeking or obtaining a permit to do so from MassDEP, as is required under applicable law.

Surface disinfectants contain VOCs, which evaporate and escape into the surrounding environment. The complaint alleges that since 2014, Shire exceeded its emissions limits at least 100 times, with 28 of those times being more than double the allowed limit. The complaint alleges that Shire failed to comply with numerous recordkeeping and reporting requirements as well.

Under the settlement, Shire is required to apply for a new permit that will cap VOC emissions from the Lexington facility at a level that will both allow expansion at the facility and help to keep the public safe from dangerous pollutants, according to the release.

In addition to imposing $400,000 in civil penalties, the settlement requires Shire to pay $200,000 to fund a project being conducted by GreenRoots Inc., a community-based organization that works to improve the urban environment and public health in Chelsea and surrounding communities.

GreenRoots will use the funds to purchase air filters for more than 500 homes in Chelsea. In collaboration with health institutions and private and public partners, baseline and long-term air monitoring will be conducted to evaluate improvements, and the project could be implemented in other areas in the future.

In her May 2020 brief on the environmental factors that compound the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on environmental justice communities in Massachusetts, Healey discussed the high rates of air pollution in lower-income areas and communities of color – including Chelsea. As a result, the Attorney General’s Office has prioritized directing settlement funds from appropriate enforcement actions to support environmental justice communities.

Source: The Office of Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey

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