Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) Air Quality Division officials hold an informational meeting on the L'Anse Warden Electrical Company's "biomass" plant on Sept. 7, 2016, at L'Anse High School. The purpose of the meeting was to take questions from the public related to the recent Administrative Consent Order based on the company's permit violations of Hydrogen Chloride (HCL) emission limits and fugitive dust in the community. A DEQ Public Hearing on the Consent Order will be held this Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2016. (Photos by Keweenaw Now)
L'ANSE -- The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) will hold a public hearing Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2016, on L'Anse Warden Electric Company's proposed Consent Order and proposed Permit to Install (PTI). The proposed PTI is for removal of pentachlorophenol (PCP) treated wood from the fuel portfolio of the existing 324 million British thermal unit per hour boiler at the facility, located at 157 S. Main St., L'Anse, Mich. The public hearing will take place at L'Anse Area Schools Cafetorium. DEQ will answer questions from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. and will accept public comments after 7 p.m.*
The hearing follows two informational meetings -- one with DEQ on Sept. 7, 2016, and an earlier meeting with both EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) officials and DEQ held on May 9, 2016. At both meetings officials discussed the Hydrogen Chloride (HCL) exceedance at the plant, which violates their permit, as well as a fugitive dust violation of enforceable laws and odors from the plant as reported by local residents. Following are some video clips from both meetings.
At the Sept. 7, 2016, informational meeting Chris Hare, DEQ Air Quality Division Upper Peninsula District supervisor, states the reason for the meeting:
At the Sept. 7 meeting the public was provided with several documents, including the Consent Order and a list of Questions and Common Concerns with answers provided by DEQ. Several questions concerned railroad ties -- some treated with pentachlorophenol which will no longer be allowed as fuel in the plant -- and some treated with creosote, which is a concern because of odors and because of its carcinogenic properties. The DEQ's question-answer sheet states that EPA considers both pentachlorophenol and creosote as "probable" human carcinogens. Referring to each of these, DEQ states, "cancer risk depends on exposure concentration and duration."
Here Jim Haun of Skanee questions whether the railroad ties and tire derived fuel burned in the plant should be considered biomass:
Another question on the DEQ's question-answer sheet notes that "the proposed consent order requires LWEC to pay up to $10,000 per violation per day, depending on which condition of the consent order is violated." L'Anse area resident and retired attorney Frank Kohl challenged DEQ on the vague wording of the amount, since "up to" opens a possibility of a very low fine. Hare replied that the language is meant to encourage the company to agree to the consent order.
FOLK members challenge DEQ on lack of permit enforcement
During the Sept. 7 public meeting, Catherine Andrews, local resident and member of Friends of the Land of Keweenaw (FOLK), who has often expressed concerns about the L'Anse Warden plant's air emissions, asked DEQ officials about the toxicity of air pollution from the plant.
Andrews, who has written more than one letter to the editor to local media expressing her concerns about the plant's air pollution, states the following in a recent letter to the editor:
"L'Anse Warden Electric Company (LWEC) claims they failed a stack test last September  because they inadvertently fed too many chipped PCP treated railroad ties into the boiler. A June 2016 Addendum to Emissions Test Protocol sent from Steve Walsh, [LWEC] CEO, to EPA states, 'LWEC wishes to clarify that the boiler operator does not have the ability to separately weigh and feed the various fuels on an hourly basis.' This statement is an admission that they can't meet permit requirements and makes the permit unenforceable, and therefore illegal.
"In the same document Walsh states that, 'repairs were needed on the upper portion of the stack' and that 'access to the top of the stack could not be obtained consistent with OSHA requirements for worker safety.' This is a weak excuse for requesting an exclusion from an EPA testing requirement to measure stack gas exit velocity and stack gas temperature at the exit from the stack. EPA should force LWEC to repair the stack.
"DEQ was asked on September 7th, 'Would you have done anything if you hadn't gotten any complaints?' Their response was, 'No.'"
Linda Rulison, president of FOLK, asked DEQ officials if citizens would need to continue reporting their complaints to DEQ in order to have rules and regulations enforced.
Some members of the public submitted written questions to the DEQ officials to be addressed during the meeting. One question concerned creosote:
More questions on the odors and fugitive dust from the plant led to the DEQ's announcement that, although EPA officially requested that L'Anse Warden Electric Co. (LWEC) put air monitors at their property line, EPA is now delaying that request until after the company closes conveyors and other equipment to "wait and see" how effective that is:
DEQ notes on their question-answer sheet, "EPA has agreed to an extension of installing air monitors to monitor particulates at the property line until the enclosures of conveyors and fuel receiving area is built. At that time EPA will reevaluate their request to install the monitors."
Finally, Horst Schmidt, president of the Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition and member of FOLK, asked DEQ officials if the Department of Environmental Quality has the willingness and capacity to monitor the plant and enforce the rules in a meaningful way:
Following the Sept. 7 meeting, DEQ officials answered individual questions for a few minutes.
Following the Sept. 7, 2016, meeting, FOLK members Doug Welker, left, and Catherine Andrews chat with DEQ Toxicologist Michael Depa, right, and DEQ Permitting Engineer John Vial, both from the Air Quality Division Lansing office.
Vanessa Dietz, Daily Mining Gazette reporter, interviews Ed Lancaster, DEQ Air Quality Division environmental quality analyst for the Upper Peninsula, who does inspections at the L'Anse Warden Plant.
EPA, DEQ address citizens' concerns at May 9, 2016, meeting
The L'Anse High School Cafetorium was filled with a large crowd of concerned citizens for the May 9, 2016, EPA/DEQ informational meeting on the L'Anse Warden plant. (Photos by Keweenaw Now)
On May 9, 2016, EPA Region 5 officials came from Chicago to host, along with DEQ officials, a similar informational meeting on the L'Anse Warden plant. At that time EPA was requiring the air monitors and anticipating further testing this summer. A stack test was conducted in July 2016.
Here Molly Smith, EPA Region 5 environmental scientist, speaks about dust wipes taken by DEQ near the plant and what analysis of these can or cannot indicate. She also speaks about the air monitors and requiring a stack test:
Smith told the audience at the May 9 meeting that results from the stack test this summer would be sent to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) so they may use that data to assess health risks to the community.
According to an email today, Sept. 26, from Francisco Arcaute, U.S. EPA press office, EPA has not yet received the health risk assessment from ATSDR. Arcaute also told Keweenaw Now that EPA officials will not be attending the DEQ Public Hearing this Wednesday, Sept. 28, in L'Anse.
During the May 9 meeting, several local residents expressed concerns on written comment cards and verbally as well.
At the May 9 meeting, Patricia Toczydlowski of the Keweenaw Land Trust asks whether any testing is being done to determine whether the pollution from the plant is impacting the water. Steve Casey, DEQ Water Quality Division supervisor for the Upper Peninsula, replies:
After the meeting Casey told Keweenaw Now, "We're going to make sure that storm water (runoff from the railroad ties) gets tested."
More recently, Casey said Randy Conroy, senior geologist in the DEQ Water Resources Division, did do some testing this summer. He noted L'Anse Warden needs a water permit as well as air permits.
"The water permit for Warden is an NPDES (National Pollution Discharge Elimination System) Industrial Stormwater permit," Casey told Keweenaw Now in a Sept. 23 email. "Randy did sample the stream that flows near the RR tie piles and no contaminants were detected. Unfortunately, the sample was not analyzed by the laboratory in a timely fashion, so the holding time for the sample was exceeded. We have required the company to conduct additional sampling after rain events which result in runoff from the property."
Following the EPA meeting, Ed Lancaster, who inspects the plant for DEQ Air Quality Division, said, "Whenever I get a phone call -- if I can make it -- I'll respond with a site visit. Timing is everything on odor complaints."
L'Anse resident Jim Seavoy said, "I don't want them to shut down. I just want them to clean it up. I want fresh air and the ability to open windows on my own house."
* Click here for links to DEQ documents on the L'Anse Warden Plant -- including the Consent Order and public participation documents.
** See this article by Catherine Andrews, "Citizens still concerned about community health hazards from L'Anse Warden Electric Company plant," published in Keweenaw Now Apr. 3, 2016.