The Loudon Viskase plant expansion is well under way, as is the Breathe Clean Air Action Team lawsuit pertaining to the expansion.
The local environmental group appealed the permit granted by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, charging the agency should be more stringently regulating emissions that cause foul odors.
BCAAT has objected to the construction permit on a number of points related to major increases in the release of the air toxins carbon disulfide and hydrogen sulfide, which are known to be strong causes of objectionable odors.
BCAAT contends that state law requires TDEC to consider noxious industrial odors when issuing construction permits and that the permit was improperly issued.
Hydrogen sulfide, which often is called the "rotten egg" odor, is an emission of the Viskase plant. While TDEC still maintains that "odor as odor" is subjective and difficult to regulate, there is a possibility that officials will be giving the hydrogen sulfide emission levels a second look soon.
The Environmental Protection Agency, according to the agency's website, has decided again to include hydrogen sulfide on the Toxic Release Inventory list of chemicals that must be reported.
In 1993, hydrogen sulfide had been included on the TRI list of chemicals reportable under federal environmental law. However, in 1994, the EPA issued an administrative stay of the reporting requirements for hydrogen sulfide in order to evaluate issues brought to the agency's attention.
Beginning with the 2012 reporting year, the stay is lifted and facilities are required to submit TRI reports for hydrogen sulfide.
Because the Federal Register now states that industries must report amounts of hydrogen sulfide released, BCAAT will continue to push forward in the appeal.
The Loudon County Air Quality Task Force will send a letter to Loudon County Commission and Lenoir City and Loudon city councils asking the cities and county to request that the state monitor and measure hydrogen sulfide in the air.
"We don't know how much of this stuff is going into the air," Mike Crosby, BCAAT president, said. "We do know that the permit allows hydrogen sulfide to increase 85 percent from current levels. ... We need to know how much hydrogen sulfide is there. We measured acrolein and everything else." Because of ongoing litigation in regard to the Viskase issue, TDEC representatives said they are not in a position to discuss the matter.
However, Meg Lockhart, TDEC air pollution control communications director, said emissions of many more pollutants are required to be reported to the TRI database than those that are actually considered hazardous. The recent action on hydrogen sulfide did not mean it is hazardous according to EPA standards.
"It should also be noted that there is a difference between the pollutants for which companies are required to report emissions to the TRI database and those that are considered hazardous air pollutants for purposes of Title V and air toxics standards," Lockhart said in an email. "Emissions of many more pollutants are required to be reported to the TRI database than those that are actually considered hazardous air pollutants. The recent action on hydrogen sulfide had to do with the TRI database, not the fact that it was reclassified."
On its website, the EPA released the following statement on the subject: "EPA's technical evaluation concluded that hydrogen sulfide can reasonably be anticipated to cause chronic health effects in humans and can reasonably be anticipated to cause, because of its toxicity, significant adverse effects in aquatic organisms. In addition, EPA does not believe that an exposure assessment is appropriate for determining whether hydrogen sulfide meets the TRI listing criteria for chronic human health effects or environmental effects."
On April 16, Crosby and Ron Moore, BCAAT vice president, accompanied Gary Davis, BCAAT legal counsel, to Nashville. There they participated in depositions of Barry Stevens and Quincy Styke III, the top two TDEC air officials.
Styke, who is deputy director of Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, delivered the East Tennessee Environmental Conference Air Quality Update address in March. Concerning TDEC's position on odor regulation, Styke's presentation referenced Tennessee Air Pollution Control Regulations:
● From 1200-3-1-.01(2): "... It is intended that these regulations assist in maintaining an equitable balance between benefits of clean air and the economic cost of achieving clean air ..."
● From 1200-3-1-.01(4): "... When the problems involved are aesthetic in nature, an equitable economic balance must be achieved. When a health hazard is involved, there can be no compromise."
Styke's presentation also quoted an Aug. 31, 1983, Tennessee Attorney General's opinion that stated odor could be construed to be air pollution: "Odor may constitute 'air pollution,' within the meaning of T.C.A. § 68-25-102(3), if it meets the statutory requirement of being 'injurious to human, plant or animal life or to property' or if it 'unreasonably interfere(s) with the enjoyment of life and property'."
Styke's presentation included information that the state air pollution control board has taken up the discussion of odor regulation. TDEC-APC's understanding of the state air board's guidance in regulating odors is:
● The state air board is not inclined to consider "odor as odor" odor control regulations.
● The state air board would like to see odor complaints by the public investigated and addressed within the current regulatory framework of its rules.
● If TDEC-APC believes that the rules on the books do not enable it to properly address the complaints registered against a facility, it is to bring the matter to the state air board for review and instruction.