EPD Likely To Grant LP’s Request For Emissions Hike
Short of finding LP is breaking the law or its proposed level of emissions would break the law, the EPD cannot deny LP’s request
Emissions from the Louisiana Pacific oriented strandboard plant on U.S. 441 in Center are responsible for every illness from sinus infections to cancer to breeding problems in cattle, according to participants in a public hearing last week.
Those who chose to speak on the record asked, encouraged and begged the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) to decline LP’s request to quadruple the emissions of formaldehyde. They also expressed suspicions denied by the company that LP seeks the permit change to ramp up production.
And in spite of repeated assertions by James Capp, manager of the EPD’s Stationary Source Permitting Program, that the EPD would consider all of the comments made in the Nicholson Civic Center on a rainy Wednesday night, the consensus appeared to be that granting the permit “is a done deal,” as more than one participant suggested.
In fact, Capp acknowledged that short of a legal reason coming out of the public hearing, LP will get its permit.
“Both the Georgia Air Quality Act (Act) and the Georgia Rules for Air Quality Control (Rules) require EPD to issue a permit upon a determination that the facility can reasonably be expected to comply with the Act and the Rules,” he said in an e-mail response to an e-mail inquiry question. “So, it would take comments that were persuasive that the proposal does not comply with the Act or the Rules.”
LP, because it on one occasion released more formaldehyde than its current permit allows, wants increased limits “to take out any fluctuations” in emissions that might cause further violations, said Mike Anderson, LP’s environmental manager, who added that the plant does not actually plan to increase emissions.
Formaldehyde occurs naturally in nature and is emitted from heated or burned wood in LP’s production process. It is also a carcinogen. LP’s emissions control system eliminates 95 percent of the formaldehyde, according to Anderson.
It’s the other five percent at issue.
The permit request would change allowable emissions of formaldehyde from LP’s dryer to go from .438 pounds per hour to 2.45 pounds per hour, and an increase from its board press from the current allowable rate of .51 pounds per hour to 1.02 pounds per hour.
At the maximum, Capp said, those emissions would generate a ground level concentration of formaldehyde in the air amounting to only 14.3 percent of what is known as the “acceptable ambient concentration.”
Assertions of acceptable levels of formaldehyde didn’t impress the audience, many of whom spoke of issues with dust, noise even water pollution, and some exhibited a deep suspicion of LP’s intent and that of the EPD.
A number of speakers suggested that emissions from LP are linked to illness in the community.
One was Madison County Commissioner Stanley Thomas, who complained that “Madison County seems to be getting all of the bad air and health issues.” He also expressed frustration with companies who come into the area with one level of permit, then get it amended to allow greater levels of pollution making it more difficult for county commissioners to believe what incoming plants say about their potential effect on the environment. He asked the EPD to deny LP’s request “for the health and safety of the people of our county.”
Farmer Kenneth Bridges, who lives between LP and Huber Engineered Woods, another Jackson County OSB plant, attributed his kidney cancer to emissions from the two plants and blamed the death of aquatic life in a creek on his farm on pollution.
Robert Farmer, Ed Bennett Road, cited four cancer cases nearby he seemed to think are attributable to LP. He encouraged the EPD to research the incidence of cancer in the area. “You might find there’s some connection,” he insisted.
Donald Brooks, Brooks Road, challenged the EPD to come by his house at 4:00 in the morning to experience the effects of LP, which he said causes dust that coats his vehicles. When Capp said all testing is done during daylight hours for safety reasons, Farmer replied that if the company runs 24 hours a day, testing should be done 24 hours a day. “LP has never been honest about its operations,” he charged.
Brooks appeared to blame LP for problems with his cattle not being able to breed near Sandy Creek Park, and said the number of birds in the area has decreased.
“We don’t see the birds anymore,” he said. “The birds have the sense to get out of the area. We can’t.”
Jackson County Commissioner Dwain Smith said LP has “caused headaches ever since the company came here.” As for the $236,000 it pays in property taxes, Smith said: “I believe I could find that money somewhere else if they wanted to go ahead and move.”
“Remember our names,” urged Steve Arnold of Madison County, referring to himself and his wife, Brenda. “You may see them in the obituaries one day and you’ll remember this meeting.” He told the EPD officials that their job is to determine “what’s best for the mass of the people, not what’s best for the company.”
Pat Armour, who lives off Nowhere Trail astraddle the Jackson-Madison county line, reported sinus infections throughout her family that she blames on LP emissions.
“We are begging,” she pleaded. “Please, please reconsider. Have them come into compliance instead of us having to deal with what we are now.”
Wesley Nash, chairman of the Madison County Board of Commissioners, was also present. He questioned EPD’s method of monitoring for formaldehyde, but did not make a comment for the record.
A couple of speakers faulted the concept of increasing the permit over one violation.
Angela Scarborough suggested that LP “could do some little something” to get in compliance. Earlier, she asked if LP planned some other changes. “This is not adding up to me,” she said.
“Four times (the amount of formaldehyde) means something’s coming,” insisted Arnold.
Armour compared raising the permit level to raising the speed limit on a road because people are speeding.
LP officials, including Anderson and plant manager Walt Ward, sat patiently as their neighbors complained and accused, responding when addressed directly.
Anderson, in response to one woman’s question, confirmed that the Center plant is undertaking a pilot program with a resin that does not contain formaldehyde. Earlier, he noted that an industry magazine had named LP as one of the “Top 10” safest companies in the country.
The EPD will continue to take public comment through 5:00 Thursday, May 22.