For a Canadian perspective, please read about a US-based corporation which was given permission a couple of years ago, to actually increase industrial emissions at its Manitoba wood products plant.
By Larry Powell
EIGHTEEN MONTHS afer being allowed to temporarily shut down pollution control devices at its mill in the Swan Valley, Louisiana Pacific Canada Limited (LP) now has the green light to scrap them indefinitely.
Manitoba’s Minister of Conservation Bill Blaikie has accepted a key recommendation from the Clean Environment Commission (CEC). It calls for the issuance of a new license, allowing LP to operate its plant without the use of regenerative thermal oxidizers (RTOs).
In a government news release, Mr. Blaikie states, “We accept the CEC’s recommendation the plant be permanently granted an amended licence and Manitoba Conservation o cials will be working to thoroughly review the recommendations as a part of the licensing process.” The release added that LP has also taken other steps “to reduce emissions and exhaust discharge” such as improving its smokestack to “reduce the impact of emissions.”
Some vindication for critics?
In its report, the CEC, in eff ect, concedes that the critics were right on at least one count — that the RTOs were cutting down on those pollutants, dramatically.
“The RTOs are estimated to reduce the emission of volatile organic compounds, (VOCs) into the atmosphere by between 90 and 95 percent. Removing the RTOs will increase VOC emissions, often by more than one order of magnitude, and require adjustments to the emission limits in the Environment Act license governing the plant.”
VOCs are an entire category of toxic chemicals, numbering in the thousands. At least two of them, formaldehyde and acrolein, cause cancer.
One of LP’s critics also pointed last year to a major US study that showed a link between formaldehyde and ALS, or “Lou Gehrig’s” disease.
An expert in industrial pollutants, Charles Simon of the Florida-based company, Precision Analytical Laboratories Inc., was one of three hired by groups critical of LP. In his report is- sued last year, Dr. Simon warned of a 400-fold increase in emissions if decommissioning were allowed.
The CEC’s justification
To quote from the report, “The Commission’s concern is not, for the most part, with the magnitude of the increase, but the impact of the increase.” It therefore finds that, “the increased emissions associated with a decision to operate the plant as proposed would not present a statis- tically signicant risk to human or environmental health.”
And even with the controls shut down, the many toxins escaping into the air at the plant, according to the Commission, are not exceeding any existing limits governing air quality in Manitoba.
Except, perhaps, for one.
“The proposed emission rates for the VOCs associated with OSB production will not — with one exception — lead to exceedances of applicable ambient air quality criteria. In the case of that one exception, acrolein, the predicted exceedances are rare (only two days a year) ... and are two orders of magnitude below the lowest concentrations at which negative health impacts have been observed in humans.”
As a result, it adds, “The CEC accepts the health-risk analysis conclusion that acrolein emissions would not result in an appreciable health risk to the surrounding population.”
At the same time, the Commission is also recommending that the proposed design of the plant “be reviewed to determine whether these “exceedances could be prevented or minimized.”
Lax air monitoring?
Without stating so directly, the CEC also recognized that critics were justified in pointing out that LP placed its air monitoring stations in inadequate locations (upwind of the mill), making it diffi cult or impossible to accurately measure the emissions.
In an apparent attempt to now correct this shortcoming, the CEC recommends LP be re- quired to set up a monitoring system “that is capable of providing the data required to vali- date the predicted ground-level concentrations” of emissions. “This may require a minimum of three additional locations close to the area of predicted high ground-level concentrations.”
The government’s decision in January of 2009 to grant a temporarily RTO closure angered some citizens and environmentalists in the province. They argued that that decision meant much higher levels of toxic pollutants were escaping from the plant than at any time since it opened in the mid ‘90s with the controls in place.
In the midst of the uproar, the Minister of Conservation at the time, Stan Struthers, ordered the CEC, an arms-length advisory agency, to investigate the merits of LP’s application to decommission the RTOs.
If it was not allowed to do so, LP threatened to shut down its entire plant, throwing hundreds of people out of work. It maintained that the financial burden of keeping the aging controls in place ($3 million per year to operate, $10 million to replace) would leave it no choice.
The full Clean Environment Commission report is available at Cecmanitoba.ca.