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Synthetic rubber manufacturer faces $100K fine for polluting west Louisville

A shot of American Synthetic Rubber and a nearby parking lot with cars parked in it.
Erica Peterson
American Synthetic Rubber Company last paid fines to Louisville's Air Pollution Control District in 2019.

American Synthetic Rubber Company is facing more than $100,000 in fines for releasing excess amounts of air pollution into the city’s industrial corridor and neighborhoods nearby and failing to notify regulators.

American Synthetic Rubber Company makes rubber for Michelin at one of the original plants that gave Louisville’s “Rubbertown” neighborhood its name back in the 1940’s.

The company alleges the bitter cold over the winter holidays resulted in a coal-fired boiler malfunctioning and releasing more pollution than permitted by the city’s air pollution regulators at the Air Pollution Control District (APCD).

APCD Enforcement Manager Steve Gravatte said the problems did not affect the chemical side of the plant, which uses a known carcinogen in the rubber manufacturing process.

“They had a series of malfunctions starting with some frozen water supply lines,” Gravatte said.

The breakdown resulted in excess emissions of sulfur dioxide, hydrochloric acid and particulate matter, he said. APCD issued the company a notice of violation in late April alleging the company released the excess emissions and failed to notify regulators.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency records demonstrate the company released the excess pollution into an area that already bears a larger pollution burden than state and national averages, and is composed of more vulnerable populations.

A spokesperson for Michelin, which owns American Synthetic Rubber, said they are aware of the allegations and plan on addressing them.

“ASRC remains committed to complying with all applicable environmental regulations as evidenced by our significant emission reductions over the last 10 years,” said Megan Bagwell, director of external communication.

American Synthetic Rubber last paid a regulatory fine of $135,375 to APCD in 2019. In that case, the company released excess amounts of a known carcinogen with a mild gasoline odor used in the production of synthetic rubber.

Michelin reported a net income of more than $2.1 billion last year.

APCD says it has not yet heard back from the American Synthetic Rubber, but the company has returned to compliance so they are looking at settling the case with a payment of the penalty.

The proposed settlement will be available for public comment at some point. Residents will be able to find information about it on APCD’s website.

The fines don’t go to the residents impacted by the releases. Instead the Air Pollution Control District uses it to fund programs and one-off expenses like equipment.

Ryan Van Velzer is the Kentucky Public Radio Managing Editor. Email Ryan at rvanvelzer@lpm.org.

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