Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Groups cite deficiencies in draft air permit for L’Anse Warden plant, potential health hazards from emissions

The playground, left, for the BHK Child Center (preschool) in L'Anse, Mich., is very close to the smokestack of the L'Anse Warden "biomass" plant (behind building). Environmental groups are concerned that a draft renewal air permit is not protective enough. In winter black particulate matter from the plant's emissions is found regularly in the snow where children play. (Photo courtesy Diane Miller)

L'ANSE -- Two environmental groups have charged that a draft state renewal air permit for a power plant located in Michigan's Upper Peninsula provides little or no protection to residents of L’Anse, who have suffered acrid fumes and soot-stained playgrounds from the plant’s emissions.

Michigan-based Friends of the Land of Keweenaw (FOLK) and Massachusetts-based Partnership for Policy Integrity (PFPI) filed comments with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) on a draft renewal emissions permit for the L’Anse Warden "biomass" power plant, alleging that "many significant deficiencies" in the document require a public hearing and a rewritten permit.

The plant was converted from coal in 2009 and is permitted to burn waste wood, including creosote- and pentachlorophenol-treated railroad ties, and shredded tires. The facility received an $11,690,566 taxpayer-funded "clean energy" Federal grant in 2010, but did not undergo any significant upgrades in its pollution control equipment.

L'Anse resident Catherine Andrews said, "This plant has been a major source of pollution for years, but the company keeps claiming they’re within the terms of their permit. If that’s true, then the permit needs to be made much more protective."

Andrews and Diane Miller presented their concerns about the L'Anse Warden plant in a presentation titled "Power from Trees? An Investigation into the Issues Behind Biomass Claims" at the Portage Lake District Library in April 2015.

This slide from Andrews and Miller's presentation at the Portage Library lists the types of fuel permitted to be burned  -- and the amounts per day -- at the L'Anse Warden plant. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)

In the following video clip, Miller describes the plant's proximity to the preschool, and elementary school and the local health department. Andrews enumerates potential health hazards from burning wood (wood alone, not even including other toxic emissions from railroad ties and tires).

During an April 2015 presentation on biomass at the Portage Lake District Library, Diane Miller and Catherine Andrews talk about the potential health effects from emissions coming from the L'Anse Warden biomass plant in L'Anse, Michigan. They note its proximity to a local preschool, elementary school and health department. (Video by Keweenaw Now)

Among the numerous deficiencies cited by FOLK and PFPI are no limits on soot-blowing despite "periods of soot-blowing three times a day." In a letter accompanying the comments, an employee of the BHK Child Center in L’Anse told the Department of Environmental Quality the following:

"During the winter months black particulate matter is found in the snow on a regular basis. By late winter and early spring the black residue in the snow is very noticeable, with lined black strata in the pinkish hued snow. Children with light colored snow pants leave the playground with black streaks of soot-looking stains. Parents have complained about these marks. Mittens or uncovered hands are subject to the same black debris found in the snow… We are also breathing the same air in which the particulate matter is traveling in. We always have some children and staff with respiratory and/or asthma conditions….The wind pattern regularly blows stack emissions over not only our center, but also public family housing, the Bayside Nursing Home, and the Sacred Heart Elementary School."

Other permit deficiencies identified by the groups include no testing or monitoring requirements for toxic pollutants commonly emitted by burning tires and waste wood. The plant is allowed to burn railroad ties preserved with creosote and pentachlorophenol, a pesticide that according to EPA is extremely toxic to humans. According to news accounts and other public documents, the plant also burns construction and demolition wastes that can contain arsenic, lead and mercury.

Owned by parent company Traxys, the Warden facility has a higher allowable rate of sulfur dioxide emissions than most coal plants in Michigan, and has the highest allowable emission rate for nitrogen oxide, a smog precursor. The plant does not employ emissions controls for either sulfur dioxide or nitrogen oxides. The groups also noted that the permit requires testing for these major pollutants only once every five years. (The air permit must be renewed every five years.)

"L’Anse Warden’s tagline of 'Bringing Green To Michigan' is a sad irony given that this plant emits toxic pollution with impunity," said Mary Booth, PFPI director. "Unfortunately, a lot more communities could face so-called 'green' power plants unless state renewable energy standards are reformed to eliminate subsidies for biomass and waste-burning."

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality will hold a public hearing on the permit, with time and date to be announced. Ed Lancaster is MDEQ’s contact for the permit. Written comments can be sent to Lancaster at: Upper Peninsula District Office, Department of Environmental Quality, Air Quality Division, 1504 West Washington St., Marquette, MI 49855 (Phone: 906-228-4853).

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