Some Loudon residents concerned with manufacturers' impact on air quality

By Hugh Willett

Thursday, October 29, 2009

LOUDON - The Loudon County Air Quality Task Force Wednesday heard from several local manufacturers that have been cited in the past year for noncompliance with air quality standards.

The task force also heard from local residents concerned over the lack of progress in solving air quality problems in the county.

"I'm concerned about the 2,300 residents living in a three-mile area around Kimberly-Clark," said Loudon County resident Shirley Harrison, who was among about a dozen people meeting with officials of manufacturers Kimberly-Clark and Tate & Lyle. Residents closest to the plants are in the greatest danger, she said.

Other residents told of respiratory problems as well as black soot that often coats cars and houses around plants that have been cited for particulate emissions violations.

The meeting comes just weeks after an Environmental Protection Agency report said that Loudon, along with Knox, Anderson, Blount and parts of Roane counties do not meet new federal standards for air pollution.

Kimberly-Clark Corp. and Tate & Lyle in Loudon have been cited at least once by the EPA or Tennessee Department of Environment & Conservation in the past year, according to TDEC and EPA databases.

According to EPA records, Kimberly Clark was cited at least twice in the past five years for noncompliance. Bryan Crawford, environmental coordinator at the paper products manufacturer, said the plant experienced some problems during testing in July that resulted in higher than average levels of carbon monoxide.

"We've addressed the problem and believe we are back in compliance," he said. "We're in the process of installing new monitoring systems that should be in place before the end of the year."

TDEC records show that Tate & Lyle, which manufactures food ingredients like starch and industrial ingredients like ethanol in Loudon County, has been cited at least twice in the past year and has paid a total of $18,000 in fines. The company was notified of the most recent violation on Oct. 7, but the violation actually occurred in November 2008, said Gerry Schlueter, Tate & Lyle plant manager.

The violation was because of a shipment of bad coal and occurred over a 12-hour period, Schlueter said.

"We did everything but shut the plant down," he said.

Air Quality Task Force Chairman Mike Crosby delivered the results of a recent EPA Air Toxics report, which showed relatively low risk for the community from cancer-causing substances, including formaldehyde and benzene. The report showed that the risk of developing cancer from existing levels of the chemicals is estimated at about one person out of 26,000 over a lifetime of exposure.

"This is a relatively low risk for the community," Crosby said.

Of more concern is the presence of high levels of the chemical acrolein. Acrolein levels in Loudon County are at about 40 times the threshold level for potential problems, Crosby said.

Acrolein is created through the burning of wood, gasoline and other substances and is quite dangerous, he said.

"It was used as a poison gas in World War I," he said.

At about 0.84 micrograms per cubic meter, Loudon County's levels of acrolein are above the 0.09 levels considered unsafe for exposure of 14 to 365 days, he said. The EPA has identified elevated acrolein levels across the country as a significant problem.

The EPA and TDEC are trying to determine the acrolein source. Vehicle exhaust emissions are a likely source, he said.

David Mears, a task force member and Loudon County commissioner, said county commission plans to draft a letter to TDEC to encourage the agency to keep two existing air monitoring stations in operation. TDEC said earlier this year that they might shut down one of the monitoring stations.

While the task force has no enforcement power, it does make recommendations to county commission and is a local liaison for EPA and TDEC.

Hugh G. Willett is a freelance contributor to the News Sentinel.