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Press Release Biopharmaceutical Company to Pay $600,000 to Settle Allegations of Clean Air Act Violations at Lexington Facility

Company Will Limit Emissions, Pay a Civil Penalty, and Fund Project to Improve Air Quality in Residences in Chelsea
For immediate release:
2/12/2021
  • Office of Attorney General Maura Healey
  • Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection

Media Contact for Biopharmaceutical Company to Pay $600,000 to Settle Allegations of Clean Air Act Violations at Lexington Facility

Chloe Gotsis

BOSTON 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 facility, Attorney General Maura Healey announced today. 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,” AG Healey said. “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.”

AG Healey’s Office has made protecting clean air a priority. In her May 2020 brief on the environmental factors that compound the COVID-19 pandemic’s disparate impact on environmental justice communities in Massachusetts, AG Healey discussed the high rates of air pollution in lower-income areas and communities of color – including Chelsea – and identified pursuing enforcement cases in such communities as an important step to address the longstanding impact of environmental injustice on the state’s families. As a part of that initiative, the AG’s Office has prioritized directing settlement funds from appropriate enforcement actions to support environmental justice communities.

The consent judgment, filed in Suffolk Superior Court and approved today, settles allegations that Shire Human Genetic Therapies, Inc. (Shire) 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 dangerous air pollutants that pose severe risks to public health, including through their contribution to the formation of harmful ground level ozone, or smog, which can increase susceptibility to and exacerbate respiratory ailments and illnesses including asthma. Ozone also causes toxic effects in plants and degrades materials such as rubber and fabric.  

“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. “I am pleased that this settlement will include a supplemental environmental project where the company will provide air quality benefits to residents of the environmental justice community of Chelsea with the installation of more than 500 whole-house air filters.”

The AG’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 keep the public safe from dangerous pollutants. 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 dedicated to improving and enhancing the urban environment and public health in Chelsea and surrounding communities. These communities face “significantly compromised” indoor air quality, in part due to VOC emissions. 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.  

This case was handled by Assistant Attorney General Carol Iancu of AG Healey’s Environmental Protection Division and Deputy Chief of AG Healey’s Energy and Environment Bureau Christophe Courchesne, with assistance from Environmental Programs and Initiatives Manager Jessica Young, also of AG Healey’s Environmental Protection Division, as well as Senior Regional Counsel Jeanne Argento, Air Quality Permit Chief Edward Braczyk, and Supervising Environmental Engineer Mun Wong of MassDEP’s Northeast Regional Office in Wilmington.

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Media Contact for Biopharmaceutical Company to Pay $600,000 to Settle Allegations of Clean Air Act Violations at Lexington Facility

Office of Attorney General Maura Healey 

Attorney General Maura Healey is the chief lawyer and law enforcement officer of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection 

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