A Fairfield chemical plant, the scene of two chemical emissions this summer that briefly closed the Harbor Tunnel, agreed yesterday to drastically cut its releases of two toxic chemicals, the state Department of the Environment said.
Vista Chemical Co., in the 3400 block of Fairfield Road, makes chemical components of detergents and other chemicals, such as hydrochloric acid, and employs 190 people on its 70-acre site.
According to the state, up to 29,000 pounds of the solvent benzene was evaporating from the company's wastewater treatment tanks into the air each year, and some 24,000 pounds of hydrochloric acid was escaping when the acid was loaded onto tanker trucks for shipment.
Benzene is a known carcinogen that has been linked to leukemia and birth defects, and hydrochloric acid is a toxic chemical that can irritate the skin and eyes.
The company has agreed to comply with tough new Maryland air pollution requirements that went into effect two years ago, said Michael Sullivan, a spokesman for the Department of the Environment.
The company will cut its benzene emissions to 7,000 pounds annually, a 75 percent reduction, and its hydrochloric acid emissions to 16,000 pounds, a 33 percent cut, by early 1992 under the legally binding agreement, Mr. Sullivan said.
Meeting the new regulations will cost the company about $15 million, said David Mahler, Vista's director of environmental controls.
"Most of the money will be spent to rebuild our entire wastewater treatment facility, so that it is completely enclosed and no benzene escapes," he said.
Acid emissions will be cut by modifying the company's loading operations so that when tanker trucks are opened up, the usual "puff" of evaporated acid will be captured, he said.
Two such "puffs" of hydrochloric acid this summer were so severe that the plant was evacuated and the Harbor Tunnel closed briefly as a precaution.
No one was injured in those incidents.
The company was not fined for the incidents, though it did get an unofficial warning from the state, Mr. Mahler said yesterday.