Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Letter: EPA officials unresponsive to public concerns at meeting on l'Anse Warden Plant

Although we appreciate the EPA's willingness to respond to our plea for action with its investigation of the Warden Plant, the staff's demeanor at the May 9, 2016, public meeting was generally unprofessional and they were often unresponsive to the comments and questions of local residents.

(Inset photo: Catherine Andrews, author of this letter, speaks to EPA officials about public health concerns during the May 9, 2016, informational meeting on the L'Anse Warden Plant. Photo by Keweenaw Now)

The stack test failure in September 2015 was downplayed by the regulators even though it revealed more than twice the permit level for Hydrogen Chloride. Excessive levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, PAHs, found in fugitive dust samples were shrugged off. We were told that PAHs can come from woodstoves, outdoor grills and cigarettes. EPA did not explain how PAHs from these sources might become attached to unburned wood fibers from ground-up, chemically-treated railroad ties (fugitive dust) that drift from the Warden property into the community and the surrounding environment.

Four fugitive dust samples and one blank sample were collected in the L'Anse area on February 1, 2016. Two South 4th Street collection sites are located about 300 feet from the Warden facility. All 20 of the PAHs tested at The EPA Regional Laboratory in Chicago were above standard limits in the samples from these two sites. Specific locations of the other two collection sites have not been disclosed.

A large crowd of local residents attended the May 9, 2016, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) informational meeting at L'Anse High School. Here EPA and DEQ officials listen to comments from the audience. Many residents, including senior citizens living near the L'Anse Warden Plant, complained of respiratory effects from the Plant's fugitive dust. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)

According to the Encyclopedia of Health and Occupational Health and Safety the PAH, benzo(a)pyrene is a very potent carcinogen. It was found to be 1245 percent and 2140 percent above the reporting limit at the two South 4th Street collection sites.

Pentachlorophenol (PCP) is a known carcinogen that is banned in Canada and also banned in the U.S. with few exceptions. The two South 4th Street samples revealed 454 percent and 990 percent above the reporting limit for PCP. Creosote is also a known carcinogen but DEQ's Steve Casey states that it poses "no public health threat to the community."

The L'Anse Warden Electric Company (LWEC) was erroneously classified as a "biomass facility" when it was converted from a stand-by natural gas facility in 2008. LWEC is an incinerator that has been operating without a permit since December 30, 2015. It has two outstanding violations from December 1, 2015, for a failed stack test and February 8, 2016, for excessive dust, smoke and odor. Attorneys for Traxys, the owner of the facility, have been negotiating the violations and a new operating permit with DEQ attorneys since the beginning of February 2016.

The agencies assigned with the responsibility of protecting public health and the environment are instead protecting the interests of corporate capitalism. Their new purpose seems to be The Solution to Pollution is Corporate Absolution.

Catherine Andrews
Board Member, Friends of the Land of Keweenaw (FOLK)

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