By Hugh G. Willett
Thursday, August 18, 2011
The Loudon County Air Quality Task Force is asking the Kimberly-Clark Corp. to take action to prevent repeated particulate discharges that local residents say leaves a fine coating of white dust on vehicles and homes downwind of the plant.
Officials with Loudon County and the cities of Loudon and Lenoir City agreed earlier this week to approve a letter from the task force, asking for something to be done about the discharges.
The letter — addressed to Michael Smith, manager of the Kimberly-Clark mill in Loudon, and signed by task force chairman Michael Crosby — referenced complaints from citizens regarding ash particles purported to come from the boiler operations at the Kimberly-Clark facility.
"The task force understands and appreciates that your company has made several improvements in your boiler operation over the past several years. Unfortunately, it appears that more needs to be done to solve this issue once and for all," Crosby wrote.
A Kimberly-Clark spokesman said the company has invested millions of dollars and significantly improved its boiler operation and noted that the Loudon mill is in full compliance with all regulatory requirements.
At a recent Air Quality Task Force meeting, Mark Ludwig, a resident who lives within sight of the Kimberly-Clark smokestacks off Sugar Limb Road, presented photographs of the discharges coating his truck and other items on his property.
"I came home one day and thought it was snowing," Ludwig said. "If you leave something black outside, it will turn white in a couple of hours."
Ludwig said he has asked the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation to analyze the material. The agency took samples of the material in July but has not yet determined what the substance is, he said.
Ludwig said that he has suffered from respiratory illness and wonders if the material contains toxins.
"Some of the spots took the paint off of my car," he said.
Ludwig said he's certain the particles are coming from Kimberly-Clark because the dust only appears when the wind is blowing directly from the plant toward his property. He also said he has seen the same material blowing off of trucks entering the plant.
"If you get behind one of those trucks, it will just dust you out," he said.
Ludwig presented the task force with a log he has kept since March, detailing the date, amount of discharge and wind direction. The log documents 13 instances, he said, in which he discovered a "dusting" or more of the material on his property.
Representatives from Kimberly-Clark have responded to complaints and visited his property, Ludwig said. Recently, the company offered to pay for him to wash his truck, he said.
"They told me they are working on a change to the process in the boiler room, but it might take six to eight weeks to notice the difference," he said.
Task force chairman Crosby confirmed that there has been a history of complaints over the years.
"They burn waste wood mixed with paper fiber. We think that's where the ash is coming from," Crosby said.
Kimberly-Clark has invested millions of dollars and significantly improved the biomass boiler operation since acquiring it in 2006, according to Bob Brands, a corporate spokesman.
The Loudon mill is in full compliance with all regulatory requirements, and the company is constantly striving to improve its performance, Brands said. Kimberly-Clark is not aware of any information indicating a health risk as a result of the boiler operation, he said.
Management at the mill has worked and will continue working with local residents to assess the effectiveness of process improvement trials over the next several weeks, he said.
According to TDEC, Kimberly-Clark has been issued at least five of notices of violation in the last several years, including those for visible emissions, violations of the boiler particulate matter and carbon monoxide emission limits and failure to maintain a minimum pressure drop in a particulate matter control device.
The company was issued a Technical Secretary's Order for those violations in July 2010, according to Tisha Calabrese-Benton, a spokesperson for TDEC. According to the order, a $40,000 penalty was assessed.
TDEC also issued Kimberly-Clark a notice of violation from December 2010 for submitting inaccurate information in its semi-annual report. The facility submitted the correct information and no further action was required.
Currently, Kimberly-Clark is seeking a renewal of its major source operating permit, she said. Also called a Title V Operating Permit, it's a permit to operate an air contaminant source or sources whose combined potential emissions are greater than the EPA-established major source thresholds. These thresholds are 100 tons per year of a criteria air pollutant, 10 tons per year of a single hazardous air pollutant, and 25 tons per year of a combination of hazardous air pollutants.