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May 10, 2006


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The air we breathe
EPD figures show Transco’s emissions at least 100 times greater than Trus Joist’s
The steam rising off Trus Joist’s Hwy. 72 lumber plant draws the attention of motorists on Madison County’s busiest roadway. And yes, the plant does emit toxins into the air — about 35 tons annually.
But figures from the state Environmental Protection Division reveal that Trus Joist is an air pollutant lightweight in Madison County compared to an often overlooked facility in a quiet, country area just outside of Comer.
According to EPD statistics, natural gas pipeline company Williams Transco releases as much as 12 million pounds of toxins into the air annually at its pump station in Comer. By conservative estimates, Transco’s emissions are at least 100 times greater than toxins released from Trus Joist.
According to figures on the EPD’s Title V application website, Transco’s pump station in Comer emits as much as 4,156 tons per year in nitrogen oxides, 1,152 tons per year in carbon monoxide and 426.8 tons per year in volatile organic compounds. The facility-wide toxins listed on the EPD Title V website show Transco exceeding 6,000 tons annually — or 12 million pounds (approximately 32,800 pounds a day).
Trus Joist, which emits approximately four tons of formaldehyde per year, is currently seeking permission for facility improvements that would lead to an increase of approximately .37 tons per year in formaldehyde, according to EPD figures provided at an April 27 public hearing on the increases. By contrast, Transco emits as much as 185.3 tons of formaldehyde annually.
Of course, the figures on the EPD website reflect the highest anticipated emission level for Transco.
Figures provided by the EPD at a public hearing on Transco’s air pollution permit renewal hearing Thursday reflect the 2004 Transco emission inventory. They show that the Comer facility emitted 3,535 tons of three major toxins: 677 tons of carbon monoxide, 2,634 tons of nitrogen oxides and 224 tons of volatile organic compounds.
A sparse crowd of about 15 to 20 people asked state environmental officials about air pollution from Comer’s Williams Transco facility Thursday during an obligatory public hearing before renewal of the company’s Title V air emissions permit.
The two-hour May 4 meeting in the Comer Elementary School gym was the second Environmental Protection Division hearing in Madison County in eight days. A crowd of 50 to 60 people attended a hearing a week earlier on April 27 to learn about Trus Joist’s plans to increase its emissions by about three tons per year.
Officials said Transco is “in compliance” with its permitted emission levels. However, they also said there are no actual caps on emissions. Asked if 185 tons of formaldehyde is approaching the limit on such a toxin, EPD official Jac Capp said, “there are no specific caps of those pollutants.”
Transco’s emissions are released as the company burns natural gas in its engines and turbines in order to move that gas through its pipeline up the east coast. The pipeline company is one of the nation’s major natural gas providers, moving as much as eight billion cubic feet of gas per day. The Comer pump station is one of 44 such facilities along the pipeline.
So do the toxic emissions harm residents who live near the Transco facility?
That was the crux of questioning Thursday.
But answers were far from simple.
Several citizens from the Transco vicinity noted the health problems in the area, the high rate of cancer, the common female reproduction problems.
“There are eight or 10 women on the same road with breast cancer all within a mile of Transco,” said Dottie Coile, who lives near the facility.
Transco area resident Darlene Duncan said there are 26 cancer cases within a 1.7-mile area of the station.
Kelly Dixon, who grew up near the facility, said she understands that breast cancer is largely a matter of genetics, but she said that the frequency of breast cancer and reproductive problems among unrelated people in the Transco area is alarming.
“At first we thought it was just bad genes,” said Dixon about the breast cancer cases. “But then over time we saw that this woman has cancer and this woman has cancer… When it got to be different members of the area that aren’t genetically related, then it became a big concern for us.”
Dixon said she is “not trying to lay blame”on Transco, but she wanted answers about “what can we do for our families?”
State EPD toxicologist Randy Manning told Dixon that the EPD does not perform health studies, but that the residents of the area could contact the Public Health Department of the state’s Department of Human Resources to ask for a health study. He suggested that residents in the area with concerns contact the University of Georgia’s Cooperative Extension Service to inquire about how to collect samples to measure toxins.
EPD representatives said that Transco is a major source of air pollution in the area, but they had no figures on how the facility ranks in the state or in Northeast Georgia in terms of air emissions.
Manning said the tons per year statistics may not actually reflect the pollution levels in the area. He noted that the true measure of pollution is made by calculating the “ambient” level of toxins in parts per million. He pointed out that “mobile sources” of air pollution, such as cars and trucks, are major sources of air pollution, but noted that determining the effect of air pollution on citizens — whatever the source — is “not something easy to do or easy to understand.”
Capp, the EPD’s program manager for the Stationary Source Permitting Program, offered some explanation of the federal guidelines on air quality.
He explained that the federal government passed the Clean Air Act in 1990 that would require all major engine and turbine facilities, such as Transco’s Comer station, to match or better the technology at the top 12 percent of similar industries. Capp said that the federal government soon discovered that only two percent of the turbine facilities actually had air control measures. So U.S. government dropped the air requirements after determining that improvements would prove too costly for businesses.
Capp noted that there are “layers of regulations” for air pollution. He pointed out that old equipment faces fewer restrictions on emissions.
Williams Transco spokesman Chris Stockton told the audience that the company has spent more than $340 million on its pipeline facilties to reduce emissions over the past six years.
But Transco’s Comer station, which employs 24 people, was established 55 years ago and the facility is still operating 16 mainline units installed between 1951 and 1971.
John Yntema, manager of the EPD’s Combustion Unit, said that the facility could see major reductions in emission with new equipment.
A few audience members suggested that the company install new equipment to reduce emissions, though crowd members also said it appears the company has an incentive not to update its equipment since regulations would be tighter on newer engines.
Capp said he didn’t see tighter restrictions as the reason to avoid equipment updates, pointing out that the cost is the primary factor.
Asked for an estimate on the cost of such an upgrade, a company official said “we can’t estimate the cost.”
Stan Hauntsman of Colbert Grove Church Road asked the company to “do what’s right” and put in new equipment. He noted that he works a forklift in his job and that there are stringent emissions standards on such equipment.
“But you could take all the forklifts in the U.S. and put them in a room and they won’t emit as much as Transco emits in a month,” said Hauntsman.
Robert Clements, secretary of the Northeast Georgia Environmental Health Coalition, read about the health effects of toxins such as formaldehyde on people, noting that children are particularly vulnerable. He said he was disappointed that the EPD did not provide a breakdown of toxins in the Transco area by parts per million instead of tons per year.
“I understand you’re out at public hearings all the time,” Clements said to the EPD officials on hand Thursday. “I appreciate what you do, but there’s much more to be done.”

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