COSMOPOLIS — When Arne Peterson was an air monitor for Weyerhaeuser’s pulp mill, his young son used to think he helped create the clouds, watching the “white poofs” come out of the stacks at the mill.
Now, Peterson is an environmental air engineer for the newly restarted Cosmo Specialy Fibers mill. And, his young son’s thoughts of clouds are not entirely inaccurate. Most of what comes out of those stacks is steam and condensation. But there are also some less-harmless elements, too — sulfur dioxide and hydrogen dioxide. Plus, when the mill burns liquor in its recovery boilers or hog fuel in its power boiler, particulate matter can escape.
Everything that comes out of those stacks goes through a healthy amount of filtering and “scrubbing” to reduce the contents as much as possible, and is monitored not just by Cosmo officials on a daily basis, but by the strict oversight of the state Department of Ecology.
A few months ago, the mill’s permits for both water and air emissions expired. Details are still being worked out on the water discharge permit, but the state is taking public comment on the new air permit now. The state Department of Ecology is conducting a public hearing on Monday to explain how a new air permit for Cosmo Specialty Fibers will impact the public. The public hearing is slated for 6:30 p.m. at Grays Harbor College inside the Fireside Room, at 1620 Edward P. Smith Dr., in Aberdeen.
THE NEW PERMIT
For the most part, Peterson said the new permit is much like the old one. Ecology is loosening up some monitoring requirements, however. Instead of requiring monthly tests, Ecology will allow quarterly tests. The only exception would be if a test shows that the mill is near its permitted thresholds, and then the monthly test requirement would kick back in.
Ecology is also dropping an old requirement to monitor the company’s bleach plant for emissions. Randy Cox, a consultant hired by Cosmo, who worked for 33 years at the old mill as the environmental manager, said that the requirement was based on EPA standards that never took effect. If the EPA ever mandates the change, the company will comply with it.
Company spokesman Bob Buchan noted that the biggest change in the permit that the company sees is a new requirement to monitor greenhouse gases. But Peterson points out that the company has long-monitored gases like carbon dioxide and methanol for the EPA anyway. The biggest change, he says, will be new forms.
A support document providing information about the permit for Ecology shows that the mill was out of compliance in the sulfur dioxide it’s allowed to emit five times last year, but each time it lasted no longer than one to two hours and, each time, there’s a cause identified. For instance, a scrubber pump stopped working on July 3, 2011, causing about twice the allowed 360 parts per million of sulfur dioxide to escape from the recovery stack.
The permit doesn’t directly mention the odor issues that were a problem for the mill when it re-started.
Cosmopolis Mayor Vickie Raines said she hasn’t heard of any significant odor complaints in recent months. And Ha Tran, who is in charge of processing the permit for Ecology and handling odor complaints for the agency, said she hasn’t received an odor complaint about the mill in several months.
If residents have simply become indifferent to the odor, but it still is an issue, now is the time to chime in during the public comment period or at the public hearing.
Cox said that the main culprit of the odor issues at the plant was probably hydrogen sulfide emissions. But, Cox points out, the mill keeps the emissions within its permitted guidelines. The problem is just about any amount of emissions will create an odor. “When the community is concerned about an odor, hydrogen sulfide is the likely culprit, which is emitted in very small concentrations but the human animal is able to detect it in parts per billion,” Cox said. “Men can smell at 3 parts per billion and women can smell at 1.5 parts per billion. That odor, depending on weather conditions, can be common, and if it (goes) into town even in small concentrations, people notice that it’s bugging them. …
“When the community says they smell something, we try to figure out if it’s us,” Cox added. “And sometimes we know it’s us and we know exactly what happened.”
Peterson points out that at one point last year, there were odor complaints near its ponds, but the mill was able to figure out that the smell was not coming off the ponds, but rather across the river from the seafood processing facility.
Buchan notes that the mill has extra monitoring stations along its fences and even across town to keep track of emissions from the plant. “If there’s any accumulation of gasses, alarms go off,” Buchan said. “That’s not a requirement for the permit. That’s for the safety of us. So, that’s beyond the permit. … All of the executives are here in Cosmopolis. If it smells, every executive smells it. If there’s noise, every executive hears it. Everybody here gets it the same as those across the street.”
“And that’s a big big difference in terms of timeliness of decision-making. This place can turn on a dime in terms of decision-making compared to the way it used to work under the old mill,” Cox added.
Tran, with Ecology, said after the public comment ends, she’ll review the comments and reply to them in writing. More research may have to be done. And, eventually, the EPA will need to sign off on the permit before it becomes final. Buchan said he hopes for permit approval by early next year.
The proposed permit and accompanying documents can be found online at http://www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/swfa/industrial/pulp_weyercos.html. Full printed copies are also available at the Aberdeen Timberland Library at 121 E. Market Street.
Comments can be sent to Ha Tran, P.E., Department of Ecology, Industrial Section, P.O. Box 47600, Olympia, WA 98504 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and fax at (360) 407-6102.
Steven Friederich, a Daily World writer, can be reached at 537-3927, or by email at email@example.com