Increases Predicted in Air Pollution, including 100 more tons of PM a Year
Holcim Cement’s Midlothian cement plant has requested a permit application to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to release an additional 2700 tons per year of Carbon Monoxide and burn 100% Petroleum Coke in its Kiln #2. Holcim estimates these change will set of federally-mandated reviews for increases in emissions of Particulate Matter (PM), Nitrogen Oxide (NOx), Sulfur Dioxide (SOx), and Carbon Monoxide (CO).
Notice of the company’s permit amendment was published in the Midlothian Mirror earlier in the month.
Holcim is one of three very large cement plants doing business just south of I-20 in Midlothian in what is the largest concentration of cement manufacturing in the U.S. The other two are TXI and Ash Grove. These are not batch plants. These are where the batch plants get their product. With annual air pollution emissions in the thousands of tons, any one of these kilns would easily be the largest “stationary” industrial source of air pollution in North Texas. Combined, they represent a mega source of air pollution for DFW.
Review of the numbers in the permit application show the company wants to scrap its current limit of a little over 4000 tons a year for Carbon Monoxide and replace it with a higher 7112 ton per year ceiling. In addition, the difference between actual emissions and proposed changes could result in 100 tons more of Particulate Matter, 260 more tons of smog-forming Nitrogen Oxide, and 1700 additional tons of Sulfur Dioxide.
Missing from the permit analysis is the impact of the changes on CO2 climate crisis pollution. Petroleum Coke is nothing but carbon. It releases a lot of CO2 when burned. Burning 100% Petroleum Coke at Holcim will significantly increase this kind of air pollution. Cement plants are already a huge source of CO2 worldwide and Texas leads the country in CO2 pollution.
Overall, it’s the largest requested air pollution increase from any of the three Midlothian kilns in a very long time. And it reveals how badly the snake-bit 20th Century Holcim plant is aging.
Holcim’s current air pollution levels are already way out of sync with the other two, newer cement plants in Midlothian, and the Holcim facility has had a long troubled history with what its owners claim is a problem with the area limestone – the same patch of limestone the other two plants use. Holcim is already releasing 14 times the amount of four major air pollutants compared to Ash Grove’s 2014 renovated plant, and three times the amount of those same pollutants as TXI. This permit amendment would make the difference even starker.
Clearly Holcim has a problem child cement plant. Since Kiln #1 opened in 1999 it’s never performed to expectation. Because it would otherwise have set off a national non-attainment area for Sulfur Dioxide, Holcim had to add scrubbers to the plant before it even opened. When Kiln #2 was added in 2000, Holcim predicted it would cut pollution in half. Instead it doubled air pollution and by EPA decree the company had to add new pollution controls and buy Downwinders at Risk an independent scientist to monitor their operations. Now Holcim is saying their longstanding plan to reduce Carbon Monoxide pollution at that second kiln just didn’t work out and they need to increase their CO “permit allowables” by over 2700 tons a year.
Even for a very large cement plant, that’s a significant increase in pollution. CO pollution is a red flag for poor combustion, which is always worrisome when you’re looking at a facility of Holcim’s size that’s burning a flame at 2400 degree flame 24/7/365. Poor combustion at a cement plant burning tires and industrial waste, as Holcim does, or even coal and Petroleum Coke, means the creation of more “Products of Incomplete Combustion,” or “PICs.”
PICs are bad news. Dioxin – the poison in Agent Orange – is a PIC but there are thousands more. Some are extremely toxic. Holcim is already releasing 168 times more CO than the newer Ash Grove plant – located just across Highway 67, and nine times more than former Bad Boy TXI. That’s a lot of potential PICs. Something isn’t right in the basic design of the plant to make it so inefficient, but instead of investing in a new plant, Holcim just wants to increase its pollution levels.
There’s a second part of Holcim’s request that’s even more disturbing. Besides the increase in CO pollution, Holcim is seeking approval from the State to burn 100% Petroleum Coke as a fuel for its Kiln #2.
Cement kilns need a cheap source of fuel. Since 1960 the Midlothian kilns have burned gas, coal, hazardous waste, tires, used oil, car inards, plastic packaging, and other “industrial wastes” to keep a flame at 2400 degrees F or hotter. But never 100% Petroleum Coke.
Pet Coke is a refinery waste high in BTU value and sulfur content. It’s very dirty. It’s basically solid carbon. In the application submitted by Holcim, the company says Particulate Matter pollution could go up by 100 tons per year. There’s also a very good chance of increases in smog-forming Nitrogen Oxides and Sulfur Dioxide pollution. Separately there’s also a significant but undocumented increase in CO2 that will occur because of Pet Coke’s composition, so this is a very bad Climate Crisis move as well.
Holcim says not to worry – most of these increases are on paper only and they’re not really changing the emissions, just “refining them.” But with the plant’s history, it’s more likely air pollution will increase, and not by a little bit.
TCEQ’s permit engineer assigned to the Holcim case says this is only a preliminary application and that the company will have to answer more questions about pollution increases, and more importantly will have to stage a “test burn” to see what the impact of burning 100% Pet Coke will actually be (under ideal conditions when everyone is looking over their shoulder). Many long time observers of the modern TCEQ under Governor Greg Abbott are skeptical any of this will happen before Holcim gets their permit however.
Because of the increased volumes of pollutants, this application will be generating an official response from Downwinders requesting at least one public meeting for a briefing on the permit and objecting to any increase in PM and NOX, insisting on test burns using 100% Pet Coke before the permit is approved, and protesting any increase in Climate Crisis pollution.
There’s two responses you can take right now to oppose Holcim’s permit amendment:
1) You can request a public meeting in Midlothian to have the TCEQ and company brief the public on the permit amendment and have the opportunity to ask questions
AND ALL LOCAL STATE REPRESENTATIVES AND SENATORS
Requests should be addressed to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality as well as local State Representatives and Senators – not just those representing Midlothian.
TCEQ, Office of the Chief Clerk, MC-105, P.O. Box 13087 Austin, Texas 78711-3087
Texas State Senators
St. Senator Brian Birdwell/Midlothian: Brian.Birwell@senate.texas.gov, 512-463-0122
St. Senator Royce West/Southern Dallas County: firstname.lastname@example.org 512-463-0123
St. Senator Beverly Powell/ Southern Tarrant County: email@example.com 512-463-0110
Texas State Representatives
Rep. John Wray/Midlothian: firstname.lastname@example.org 972-938-9392
Rep Yvonne Davis/ Southern Dallas County: email@example.com 512-463-0598
Rep. Carl Sherman/Southern Dallas County: firstname.lastname@example.org 512-463-0953
Rep. Chris Turner/ Southern Tarrant County/Arlington: Chris.Turner@house.texas.gov 512-463-0574
Contact all of these folks individually, or you can send them and the TCEQ the same email requesting a public meeting on Holcim’s permt via Downwinders’ ClickNSend feature. Leave your own personal message too.
2) Request a Contested Case Hearing
If you feel you’ll be affected by Holcim’s new air pollution, you have a right to ask for a contested case hearing – a formal legal proceeding that sets a higher bar for Holcim to get a permit. In order to request a Contested Case hearing, you must send the TCEQ Chief Clerk:
1) YOUR NAME, or GROUP NAME
2) MAILING ADDRESS AND TEL #
3) APPLICANT’S NAME AND PERMIT #: Holcim, Air Quality Permit 8996 and PSDTX454M5
4) THIS EXACT STATEMENT: ” I/We request a contested case hearing.”
5) A DESCRIPTION OF HOW YOU WILL BE HARMED BY HOLCIM’S AIR POLLUTION
6) THE LOCATION OF YOUR HOME OR BUSINESS AND THE APPROXIMATE DISTANCE TO THE HOLCIM CEMENT PLANT TO THEM.
7) A DESCRIPTION OF HOW YOU USE THE PROPERTY AFFECTED BY HOLCIM’S AIR POLLUTION (HOME OR BUSINESS OR RECREATIONAL)
8) A LIST OF DISPUTED ISSUES
Example: 1. Any increase in PM Pollution from Holcim will be harmful to my health and enjoyment of my property, 2. There has been no evaluation of the PM, NOx, SOx, or CO emissions of burning 100% Petroleum Coke in Kiln #2, 3. There has been no evaluation of the burning 100% Petroleum Coke in Kiln #2 on increase in CO2 4. Holcim’s cement plant isn’t applying Best Practices and Best Available Control Technology for emission reductions of PM, CO, NOx, and SOx.
Send your request to the TCEQ’s Chief Clerk:
TCEQ, Office of the Chief Clerk, MC-105, P.O. Box 13087 Austin, Texas 78711-3087
Anti-Litter Group “Keep America Beautiful” Teams-Up with Dow and Hefty to Burn Plastic Bags Full of Plastic Garbage in Cement Kilns
And They Want To Do It Here…
We’ve been warning you for a while that garbage burning was coming to North Texas one way or another.
What we didn’t anticipate was that “Keep America Beautiful” would bring it.
That’s right. The same group that gave you Oscar “Iron Eyes” Cody crying over litter is now prepared to make your own eyes water and sting from the air pollution it wants to encourage by burning municipal solid waste, especially “hard-to-recycle” plastics.
Touting bright orange “energy bags” as a quick and easy alternative to throwing those plastics away, a news release issued by the Keep America Beautiful folks, your friends at Dow Chemical, and Reynolds, the makers of “Hefty” trash bags, claims they’re “a convenient way to collect plastic materials that would otherwise end up in the landfill and offers a platform to promote positive behaviors to prevent this material from being wasted.”
What they don’t tout as much is their alternative to throwing these plastics into a landfill – throwing them into a furnace.
As long as cement kilns need a high-temperature flame to make their product, they have large energy costs. Typically, 30% or more of the costs of running a cement plant is in buying the flammable materials necessary to keep that flame lit.
History has taught us that cement kiln operators will burn anything, including the kitchen sink, if they think it will help reduce those high fuel costs.
Kiln flames in Texas used to be powered by natural gas exclusively. Then it was coal. Then it was hazardous waste and coal. Then industrial wastes. And now municipal solid wastes. In bright orange plastic bags.
Cement plants don’t have to pay for the wastes, now termed “fuel,” for regulatory loophole purposes. In fact, because it’s now a “fuel,” they often get the waste for free or even get paid to burn it. It becomes a new center of profit in the company besides making cement. Maybe even more important. In the 1990’s, there were plenty of rumors about how the TXI cement plant in Midlothian would burn a lot of hazardous waste they got paid a handsome fee to take, but not have much cement product to show for it.
While garbage burning cement kilns have been on the rise in the developing world, the practice hasn’t caught on in the U.S.
Dow’s and Keep America Beautiful’s friendly neighborhood “Energy bags” are a way to jump start it.
This is already happening in Omaha, where 8,500 homes have filled 13,000 “Hefty Energy Bags” since the program’s launch in October. That’s resulted in more than 13,000 pounds of plastics being burned in a near-by Ash Grove cement kiln. They’re so excited about burning plastics at Keep America Beautiful that they’re not only endorsing the practice, they want to bring it to a cement kiln near you.
At a news conference to announce the offering of cash money grants to local communities who wanted to try the option, they unveiled a contiguous states map of the US where they’d like to see the “energy bag” concept implemented. The approximately 50 locations on the map identified by a red (not orange?) star are almost all sites adjacent to large cement plants – including Midlothian, immediately south of the Dallas and Tarrant Counties line, and home of the largest concentration of cement manufacturing in the nation.
Local candidates for eager participation in the project include TXI, the cement plant that burned hazardous waste by the thousands of tons from 1987 to 2008, Holcim, which has sought permits to burn carpet scraps and shingles, and Ash Grove, the same operator as the one burning Omaha’s plastic bags now.
BURNING PLASTIC IS BAD FOR PUBLIC HEALTH AND PUBLIC POLICY
1. It replaces real recycling with burning.
Once you have a hungry garbage burner, you have to keep feeding it with more and more garbage, decreasing the market for real recycling.
This is already happening with tires. There are good tire recycling programs that can’t stay afloat because local governments have promised the local cement kilns a certain volume every year.
2. It gives an incentive to the plastics industry keep to just making plastics that you can’t recycle.
Burning plastic garbage is like a relief valve on the growing piles of “hard to recycle” plastics that industry is producing. Just throw it in a bag and send it to the kiln. Out of sight, out of mind. There’s no question it reduces the percentage of plastics going to landfill…only to increase the percentage of plastic going into your lungs.
The real answer is to reduce and quit producing those “hard-to-recycle” plastics, not giving them a cheap way to get out of doing so.
3. Burning plastic produces lots of toxic air pollution – and all of DFW is downwind of Midlothian
Burning plastics produces toxic air pollution, a percentage of which escapes the smokestack and ends up in the air you breathe, the soil in your garden, and the food you eat and drink. Specifically, burning plastic creates lots of Dioxins and Furans – the same ingredients that made Agent Orange so toxic. The same poisons that made the State of Missouri evacuate the town of Times Beach in 1983.
Burning plastic also releases metals into the air, like cadmium and lead.
Other chemicals released while burning plastics include benzo(a)pyrene (BAP) and polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which have both been shown to cause cancer. If plastic film or containers are contaminated with pesticides or other harmful substances, those will also be released into the air. If plastics are burned with other materials, whole new toxic chemicals may be created from the interaction of the different substances.
But wait! Don’t you want to divert more garbage from going to landfills?
Yes you do, but by eliminating, reducing and recycling the garbage – not taking a match to it.
Landfills are nasty things. They’re big and smelly and they leak. Sometimes they leak and contaminate ground and surface water. But these days you usually can trace the plume of those leaks and contain them before they get in drinking water.
On the other hand, once a piece of dioxin-contaminated soot is shot through a smokestack into the atmosphere, you have no idea where it’s going. You’re turning the whole sky into a landfill, full of solid and gaseous residues of refuse. What you didn’t want to drink, you’re now breathing. That’s the opposite of progress.
Taking a look at the Board of Directors for Keep America Beautiful, it’s no wonder they have a soft spot in their heart for large plastics manufacturers. They have not one, but two members from DOW, who, we are sure, thought this was a splendid idea.
Howard Ungerleider is Vice Chairman and Chief Financial Officer of Dow, and Greg Jozwiak is the Business President for the Elastomers and Electrical and Telecommunications businesses for the company. Prior to assuming his current role, he served as North America Commercial Vice President for the Packaging & Specialty Plastics business. Hmmmm.
But wait, there’s more! KAB has a board guaranteed to offend just about everyone. Not content with two Dow executives, it also has two Nestle Corporation members, a representative of Waste Management Inc., McDonalds, Keurig, Anheuser-Busch, and Phillip Morris – yes, that Phillip Morris.
“PEOPLE START POLLUTION. PEOPLE CAN STOP IT.”
Those are the words, spoken in a deep baritone by William “Cannon” Conrad, that ended that famous 1971 Keep America Beautiful commercial in honor of Earth Day. They ring as true now as then.
And so, people, we’re asking you to take action to discourage this kind of BAD IDEA from ever coming-up at a Keep America Beautiful board meeting again – send an email to their new Chair, Helen Lowman.
Ms. Lowman is a former FEMA and Peace Corps executive in the Obama Administration. She’s from Texas, worked at TCEQ, and graduated from Austin College…. So maybe messages from her fellow Texans will have more of an impact.
TELL KEEP AMERICA BEAUTIFUL’s NEW CHAIR YOU DON’T WANT TO BREATHE TOXIC AIR POLLUTION FORM BURNING PLASTICS
And if you want to leave a public message for the group too, here’s the group’s FaceBook site.
Other citizens groups, including some national alliances and networks are gearing up to take on this latest proof that all wastes, no matter how toxic, roll downhill to cement kilns eventually.
Meanwhile, Downwinders is taking the lead and beginning the push back we hope buries this project in the bright orange trash heap of history. Join us in not just saying “No,” but “Hell No.” Send that email now and then find two other people that will do the same. Thanks.
According to a state-sponsored study through the University of Maryland's School of Public Health, "air emissions trump water pollution and drilling-induced earthquakes as a top public health threat posed by future fracking projects in Maryland."
For the better part of a year, faculty surveyed previous research between the gas industry and health effects. They looked at all the possible "exposure pathways" for toxins to reach surrounding populations from gas rigs and facilities and ranked each of the threats. Air quality got a "high" threat ranking, whereas water pollution ranked "moderately high" threat and earthquakes "low."
Dr. Donald Milton, Director of the Maryland Institute for Applied Environmental Health and a UMD professor of epidemiology, biostatistics, and medicine was the study's lead investigator and concluded,
"….existing data show a clear trend: oil and gas activity can spew significant levels of toxic chemicals into the air—and that pollution consistently makes people sick.
"We think [the state] should pay a lot of attention to air pollution," said Milton. Although water pollution is also a concern, Milton told InsideClimate News that there's not enough data on how likely dirty water is to sicken people, nor how strong those health effects would be."
Because most of the reviewed data in the study comes from gas plays that have received a lot of attention over the last couple of years – the Barnett and Eagle Ford in Texas, the Marcellus in Pennsylvania, and the Bakken in North Dakota – Maryland's environmental and public health officials were quick to offer a joint damning disclaimer: "We believe it is important to note that it is largely based on information on natural gas development in areas where the pace of gas development was rapid and intense and without stringent regulations and government oversight." Well yeah, but if our own officials weren't so negligent you wouldn't have the benefit of now learning from our bad examples.
The study was part of a 2011 executive order signed by Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley that outlined a state approach to dealing with potential fracking in the state's western corner, where the Marcellus extends across the Pennsylvania line.
Besides identifying air pollution exposure as a major threat, the study also offered specific recommendations to combat that exposure, including:
– a 2000-foot setback from urban neighborhoods (Dallas and Southlake both have 1500-foot setback provisions)
– baseline air quality monitoring before any drilling or production begins
– constant air monitoring when activity on the site begins
– transparency in the information about the facility.
As the Inside Climate article on the study notes, its conclusions "stand in stark contrast to public concern in heavy-drilling states such as Maryland's neighbor Pennsylvania. Those concerns have tended to focus on tainted water, not air."
Indeed. It's a lot easier to make a fire-breathing water hose into a drive-by YouTube meme than a family gasping for air that won't make them sick. But for most neighbors of urban gas drilling, water quality isn't even on the radar screen because they're getting their H2O from a city pipe running from a lake, not a well. On the other hand, they're directly breathing in the mix of chemicals and pollution coming off the site itself, making their home a frontline toxic hot spot. That site's plume is then combining with hundreds or even thousands of other plumes from similar sites close-by to decrease regional air quality. That air pollution can end-up affecting thousands or millions of residents who don't even live in close proximity to a rig or compressor.
In the most successful "nuisance" court cases against gas operators in the Barnett Shale over the last year or so, air pollution has been the villain keeping families from enjoying their property and running up their medical bills. You can get water trucked in, but it's very hard to do the same with air.
Public comment on the report is open until October 3rd.
If you're already hosting the three or four largest single sources of air pollution in the entire region you need new large industrial sources of crap like a hole in the head. Likewise, if you've already violated the Clean Air Act for decades the last thing you need are new large sources of smog-producing pollution. But that's exactly what's happening with the announcement last week that a new Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) plant is being proposed for Midlothian's Railport Industrial Park, located between Midlothian and Venus on Highway 67, directly below, and upwind, of the Dallas-Tarrant County line.
Applied Natural Gas Fuels (ANGF) put out a press release on March 21st that touted the purchase of 31 acres for a facility that would house "five liquefaction units, each able to produce 86,000 gallons of fuel daily, and total onsite storage of 1.5 million LNG gallons."
"In preparation of building the facility, which was announced last September, ANGF has purchase orders for all long-lead time items, such as storage tanks, production skids and electric motors and compressors, the company said.
The plant seeks to supply both road transportation and other off-road high-horsepower applications, such as rail, marine, mining, remote power generation and oilfield exploration/production (E&P) operations."
LNG plants take natural gas and cool it to minus 260 degrees F, at which point it becomes a liquid. This allows the industry to be able to store and move it compactly. It's been described as reducing the air out of a beach ball to shrink it to the size of a ping pong ball. But it also greatly increases the chances of accidents. If there's a leak or spill from a tank or pipeline the LNG would convert back to a gas. As it diluted with air, the natural gas/air mixture could become potentially explosive if the concentration of natural gas in air reached between 4% and 17%. In this range, any source of ignition (cell phone, cigarette lighter, attic fan, light switch, auto or boat engine spark plug, carpet spark, etc.) could ignite a vapor cloud and impact a large area.
ANGF already operates an LNG plant in Topock, Arizona, only three miles on the other side of California's border – and tougher regulations. At the same time it's building its new facility in Texas, the company is also doubling the capacity of the Arizona plant. According to an online document about the company's current operations from the Southern California Air Pollution Control District,
"…the gas must be stripped of impurities until it's over 98% methane. Co2, H2S, other sulfur components, moisture, mercury, and particles are stripped via acid gas removal and disposal, gas dehydration, mercury removal, and particle filtration…. The emissions associated with these processes include CO, VOC, SOx, NOx, H2S, particulates, and many toxic organic compounds."
That's Carbon Monoxide, a poison everyone's familiar with, Volatile Organic Compounds, a smog-producing class of chemicals like Benzene and Toluene, many of which are also carcinogenic, Sulfur Dioxide, a respiratory irritant which also causes acid rain, Nitrogen Oxide, a smog-producing respiratory irritant, PM pollution that's been linked to everything from heart attacks to Parkinson's, Mercury, a notorious neurotoxin, and oh yes, Hydrogen Sulfide, or "sour gas," a highly toxic and flammable poison that causes pulmonary edema at low concentrations and death at high ones.
We don't have specific annual volumes of those pollutants for the Midlothian plant yet, and may never get them if the facility receives a standard permit with only an upper ceiling of emissions, but LNG plants use a lot of energy, and therefore have the potential to emit a lot of air pollution. It appears that the Midlothian plant will be burning natural gas for its power, including huge gas turbine compressors. At much larger LNG export plants proposed for the coasts, these compressors have been the subject of a lot of concern. Last November, a Canadian wildlife conservation group released a report on a string of proposed LNG plants for British Columbia that estimated the facilities would be burning most of the gas used in the Province,
"The report, Air Advisory: The Air Quality Impacts of Liquefied Natural Gas Operations Proposed for Kitimat, B.C., concluded LNG plants permitted to operate primarily with natural gas will collectively burn 60 per cent of all the natural gas burned annually in B.C.
The report concluded nitrogen oxide emissions from the LNG plants would increase 500 per cent above existing levels. Nitrogen oxide emissions create acid rain, which harms waterways and fish and creates smog, which causes respiratory problems for children and the elderly, the report states.
The report also concluded natural gas driven LNG plants will increase emissions in the Kitimat area of volatile organic compounds, carbon monoxide and sulphur dioxide."
As a result of these kinds of concerns, the Canadian government committed to spending over a half million dollars on a study of how the gas industry will affect air quality in this part of British Columbia.
The Midlothian plant will be much smaller, put its impact on local and regional air quality could still be substantial depending on the design and technology. Industrial Hydrogen Sulfide and VOCs are not something you want wafting into your backyard, and anything that makes more smog is bad news for the entire DFW region.
Locating in Railport – itself a piece of heavy-metal contaminated ranch property bought and developed by TXI to prevent further liability issues – the LNG plant adds to the inventory of polluters that call Midlothian home. Three large cement plants, a steel mill, a gas power plant, and other smaller entities have made sure the city is the closest thing to a DFW Ship Channel that we have. Collectively, these facilities emit a kind of super plume of air pollution that spews north into the middle of the Metromess during most of the year. If you live anywhere from SW Dallas to NW Tarrant County, you're already breathing the pollution from Midlothian industry. How much the ANGF facility will add to that plume is not yet known, but any increase is going in the wrong direction. Stay tuned.
By now, many of you have seen the massive eight-month act of journalism that the Center for Public Integrity committed in describing the situation in the Eagle Ford shale play in South Texas. It's probably the most comprehensive look at what it's like to live in Texas fracking hell that's been published, and it rightly got distributed far and wide.
Along with the now-familiar litany of acute human health effects from gas mining – nosebleeds, headaches, skin rashes, respiratory problems – the article also talked about the smog-forming pollution cause by the thousands of small, medium-sized and large gas facilities that invade a shale play. Together they represent a formidable air quality challenge.
Centering on the Buehring family of Karnes City, the piece lists the inventory of gas mining infrastructure surrounding their home. Besides the 50 wells within two and a half miles, they also host,
"….at least nine oil and gas production facilities. Little is known about six of the facilities, because they don't have to file their emissions data with the state. Air permits or the remaining three sites show they house 25 compressor engines, 10 heater treaters, 6 flares, 4 glycol dehydrators and 65 storage tanks for oil, wastewater and condensate. Combined, those sites have the state's permission to release 189 tons of volatile organic compounds, a class of toxic chemicals that includes benzene and formaldehyde, into the air each year. That's about 12 percent more than Valero's Houston Oil Refinery disgorged in 2012.
Those three facilities also are allowed to release 142 tons of nitrogen oxides, 95 tons of carbon monoxide, 19 tons of sulfur dioxide, 8 tons of particulate matter and 0.31 tons of hydrogen sulfide per year. Sometimes the emissions soar high into the sky and are carried by the wind until they drop to the ground miles away. Sometimes they blow straight toward the Buehrings' or their neighbors' homes.
That's 331 tons a year of smog-forming Nitrogen Oxides and Volatile Organic Compounds released from just a small number of square miles in the Eagle Ford. Just two more collections of facilities like that would equal all the smog pollution coming from the TXI cement plan tin Midlothian – North Texas' single largest smog polluter. It's no wonder then that a San Antonio Council of Governments air pollution model found that Eagle Ford smog pollution would make it impossible for the Alamo City to comply with the new 75 parts per million federal ozone standard.
Moreover, that 331 tons a year figure is just what can be discerned by reading Texas' archaic permitting records. The Center's reporters do a real public service in identifying the loopholes and gaps the system encourages that hide the true air pollution numbers,
Texas' regulatory efforts are also hamstrung by a law that allows thousands of oil and gas facilities—including wells, storage tanks and compressor stations—to operate on an honor system, without reporting their emissions to the state.
Operators can take advantage of this privilege—called a permit by rule, or PBR—if their facilities emit no more than 25 tons of VOCs per year and handle natural gas that is low in hydrogen sulfide. Two employees in the TCEQ's air permits office—Anne Inman and John Gott—estimate these PBRs could account for at least half of the hundreds of thousands of air permits the agency has issued for new or modified oil and gas facilities since the 1970s.
Operators with this type of permit aren't required to file paperwork backing up their self-determined status, so the TCEQ has no record of most of the facilities' locations or emissions. A chart generated in 2011 by the office of then-TCEQ executive director Zak Covar says the permits "Cannot be proven to be protective. Unclear requirements for records to demonstrate compliance with rules."
Big operators sometimes get a PBR for each component of a facility. Each might be under the 25-ton-per-year threshold that would require a more rigorous permit, but the facility as a whole could emit more than that.
The TCEQ refers to the practice as the "stacking of multiple authorizations," and the memo from Covar's office said its use "means that protectiveness and compliance with the rules cannot be demonstrated."
But of course that doesn't keep Rick Perry's TCEQ from saying everything is all right. As per usual, officials want to the results of stationary monitors in the region to assure residents that nothing unhealthy is being breathed-in.
"[M]onitoring data provides evidence that overall, shale-play activity does not significantly impact air quality or pose a threat to human health," agency spokeswoman Andrea Morrow wrote in an email."
But in this case, the region, covering a huge area from East Texas to the Rio Grande, has only five such monitors, "all positioned far from the most heavily drilled areas."
Moreover, that's just the holes in the permitting process itself. What about when a facility is a bad actor and has an "emission event' or "upset" where more than the permitted amount of pollution is released for hours or even days at a time?
"The number of emission events associated with oil and gas development doubled between fiscal years 2009 and 2013, from 1,012 to 2,023. The amount of air pollutants released into the Texas air during these events increased 39 percent."
A gas processing plant in McMullen County, in the southwestern portion of the Eagle Ford, reported 166 emission events last year, almost one every other day. From 2007 through 2011, the Tilden plant, owned by Regency Energy Partners of Dallas, discharged 1,348 tons of sulfur dioxide during such episodes. That's more than 30 times the amount it was legally allowed to release during "normal" operations.
Marathon waited three months to report a 2012 incident at its Sugarhorn plant near the Cernys and Buehrings. It released 26,000 pounds of VOCs in 12 hours, 1,000 times more than allowed under its air permit.
But what has this got to do with DFW smog? Everything. Besides the Barnett Shale play entering and enveloping the Metromess from the West, we also have the Eagle Ford and Haynesville shale plays to our South and East – upwind of DFW during our eight-month "ozone season." There are now as many wells in close proximity to DFW up wind as downwind.
Right now, as part of the new anti-smog plan for DFW being drafted by the TCEQ, the state is "re-calculating" oil and gas air pollution emissions and you'll never guess how that's working out – TCEQ is using industry advice to lower their estimates from last time around. At a January 31st meeting of what's left of the local air planning process, the state presented its new study that it's using to revise the considerable amount of air pollution coming from leaks and releases from condensate storage tanks in the Barnett and elsewhere. As of 2012, these releases are estimated by TCEQ to be only 25% of what they were in 2006. See how well that works out? And this number will be plugged into the computer model that then estimates how much of that air pollution turns into smog.
Instead of getting real world numbers for compressor stations, the TCEQ is now using a fomula based on local production and horsepower to estimate emissions, and guess which way this new technique is sending the numbers?
TCEQ is doing everything it can to make sure that the oil and gas air pollution numbers are as low for this new anti-smog plan as they can make them without breaking out laughing. Why? To prevent the call for new controls on these sources, even though everyone knows they're adding to the problem. Oil and gas emissions are the one air pollution category in DFW that's grown in volume since 2006, while others, like the Midlothian cement plants and East Texas coal plants, and even cars, have all gone down. Meanwhile, DFW ozone averages are higher then they were in 2009. Many of us don't think that's a coincidence. But the ideologically-driven TCEQ can't afford to admit the obvious – not while Rick Perry is running for President.
Compare the TCEQ strategy in DFW with the reality described in the Center for Public Integrity's reports from the Eagle Ford Shale and you have two completely different pictures of the amount of air pollution coming from the oil and gas industry. Which do your trust more – the official calculations coming out of Austin, or the secret memos and field reports uncovered by the reporters?
If what's happening in South Texas is also what's happening in the shale plays in and around DFW – and there's no reason to think it isn't – then the volumes the TCEQ is plugging into its anti-smog plan for the Metromess are off by large factors. That in turn could spell doom for the plan, due to be submitted to the EPA by July of 2015 – a little over a year from now.
This is why it's important for citizens to have their own computing power with their own modeling capabilities. It's the only way to call TCEQ's bluff that it's using all the right information to draft its new clean air plan to EPA. Without the technical know how to be able to look over TCEQ's shoulders and reveal its "GIGO"strategy, our lungs are hostages of Rick Perry's political ambitions.
The next North Texas appearance by TCEQ staff to explain how its estimating – or not – the air pollution from oil and gas industry sources as well as every other source – is scheduled for 10 am on Thursday, April 17th at the HQ of the North Central Texas Council of Governments located at 616 Six Flags Drive – right across the street from the Amusement Park. We need citizens to come out and ask pointed questions about the TCEQ effort to keep us from being taken on another ride to nowhere. Anyone can come and ask questions of the presenters – it's an open forum – and indeed it's the ONLY opportunity citizens have to actually quiz the TCEQ about the process. Please mark the date and try to be there. Meetings usually last until 12 noon or so. They think you're not paying attention. These numbers and quotes from the Public Integrity Center piece gives you lots of ammunition to prove otherwise.
As you might have heard by now, forlorn natural gas operator Trinity East has sued the City of Dallas for denying the three permits it was seeking to drill along the Trinity River in Northwest Dallas by the Irving border. Claiming breach of contract and even fraud, the company is saying it's owed millions of dollars above and beyond the $19 million it spent on leases for the three sites.
Anyone who's seen the filing knows this is a lawsuit with no legs. Yes, Trinity East leased the land, but guarantees about permits being awarded were not part of the deal. Those can't be bought so blatantly. Even Mary Suhm's secret memo un-earthed last February by the Dallas Observer made it clear that her assistance was not a guarantee and "not a legally binding agreement." The leases were one thing. The permits another. Trinity East thought it had the permits in hand when Suhm signed her memo. So did Suhm.
That's why citizens were told in 2012 that Trinity East permits were a "done deal" by sources in City Hall, including Mayor Rawlings, who seems to have known about the Suhm memo before the public did. There was just no way those permits were going to be denied. Suhm and the Mayor were not going to let that happen. That's why they called for the hearing and permit vote two days before Christmas. They thought no one would show and they could wrap it up. So it was a big surprise when the City Plan Commission voted to deny the TE permits. Undeterred, there was suddenly a call for an unprecedented, second "reconsideration vote" by the Plan Commission by the Mayor's representative on the same permits. But Trinity East lost that fight too, by a wider margin, in January of 2013. This time without any public hearing.
When the CPC denial came to the City Council in August of 2013, charter rules demanded it must be overridden by a super majority of 12. The vote to overturn the CPC's denial was 9 to 6, leaving the denial in place, but showing a majority of the current council in favor of granting the permits.
Then the strategy turned to adapting the new drilling ordinance to fit the Trinity East permits. If they couldn't make it through the front door, they could go in the back way. And so City legal staff tried to manipulate the City Plan Commission into carving out exceptions in the new draft ordinance that would allow that. Instead of a 1500-foot setback, they urged 1000 feet with a variance back to 500 feet. That would allow all Trinity East sites. Then they tried to ease the rules on park drilling, and even succeeded to some extent, softening a ban on surface drilling in parks that was part of the old ordinance.
Only Dallas residents working overtime and applying more scrutiny saved the day and got Plan Commission support for a new ordinance that did finally shut the door on all three Trinity East permits. And of course, that's when Trinity East, aided by the entire gas industry, decided to sue.
So you now have the weird situation where the same City Hall that was trying so desperately to win those permits for Trinity East is now being sued by the company for not being conspiratorial enough to subvert the public process. Yesterday, the city issued an statement saying the company's lawsuit lacked merit and, "The city will vigorously defend its right to exercise its regulatory powers to protect public health and safety as well as the environment."
But here's the thing. Since a clear majority of current Dallas City Council members voted for the permits, how much will power is there among this same group to now defend a position they didn't take? And since it was often the Dallas City Attorney's office leading the charge to manipulate the system on Trinity East's behalf, how well do you trust that same crew to "vigorously defend" the outcome they tried so hard to prevent?
Three are some legal principles involving the city's right to control its own zoning decisions which could motivate the city and/or the Texas Municipal League into such a defense. But you have to wonder how much heart they really have for a fight, of which right up until the last vote, they were on the same side as the company now suing them.
To make sure the City doesn't settle with Trinity East, citizens are going to have to persuade the three council members who voted with them for the new ordinance, but against them on the Trinity East permits to change their minds – Jennifer Staubach-Gates, Dwaine Carrawy and Mayor Ralwings.
That won't be easy. Rawlings was making the "I told you so" rounds in the media yesterday. The first sign that they might be serious about defending themselves is whether they'll hire an outside law firm with municipal law experience to represent them. If they put the same people in the City Attorney's office who were working in concert with Trinity to win those permits in charge of this fight, we're doomed. If they hire a competent firm with a reputation for toughness, you'll know they think there might be some points of law worth going to court for.
Longer term, it once again puts a spotlight n the need to elect additional allies of the six council members who've been reliable allies to citizens on this issue. This coming Dallas municipal election cycle in 2015 will see almost half the council seats up for grabs as incumbents are term-limited out. Stay tuned.
Even though this EcoNews article is about air poisons that result from fossil fuel production, it applies to just about any combustion source, including cement plants, manufacturing plants, vehicles, and so on. It's a pretty good top ten list, although you wonder why Dioxins and Furans got left off, since they're toxic by the gram instead of pound. Also missing is Particulate Matter as a stand alone threat, although it gets a shout out as a by-product. Nevertheless, these are the among the most dangerous pollutants that have caused and are still causing a lot of problems in North Texas and elsewhere:
Benzene is a well-established carcinogen with specific links to leukemia as well as breast and urinary tract cancers. Exposure to benzene reduces red and white blood cell production in bone marrow; decreases auto-immune cell function (T-cell and B-cells); and has been linked to sperm-head abnormalities and generalized chromosome aberrations.
Benzene is one of the largest-volume petrochemical solvents used in the fossil fuel industry. It is a major component in all major fossil fuel production: oil, coal and gas. People are exposed to it from inhaling automobile exhaust and gasoline fumes, industrial burning such as oil and coal combustion, and exposure to fracking fluids.
There's a recent Emory University study concluding that risk for leukemia fell with every mile between a person's home and facilities that release benzene.
2. & 3. Sulfur Dioxide (SO2) and Nitrogen Oxides (NOx)
Sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) are two primary examples of particle-forming air pollutants (particulate matter). Particulate matter is known to contribute to serious health problems, including lung cancer and other cardiopulmonary mortality. SO2 and NOx are both highly toxic to human health, and contribute directly to thousands of hospitalizations, heart attacks and deaths annually.
SO2 is particularly dangerous for children. Studies correlate SO2 emissions from petroleum refineries—even in lower exposure levels over time —to higher rates of childhood asthma in children who live or attend school in proximity to those refineries. Similarly, small particles of NOx can penetrate deeply into sensitive lung tissue and damage it, causing premature death in extreme cases. Inhalation of such particles is associated with emphysema and bronchitis.
4. Petroleum Coke (Pet Coke)
Pet coke is a by-product of oil processing that's also used as a fuel. It's a heavy dust which resembles coal. It's burned in power plants and cement plants. It contains dozens of dangerous chemicals and heavy metals, including chromium, vanadium, sulfur and selenium. It's a huge contributor to particulate mater and NOx and SOx formation
Formaldehyde is a carcinogen with known links to leukemia and rare nasopharyngeall cancers, according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer. Formaldehyde is highly toxic regardless of method of intake. It is a potent allergen and genotoxin. Studies have linked spontaneous abortions, congenital malformations, low birth weights, infertility and endometriosis to formaldehyde exposure. Epidemiological studies link exposure to formaldehyde to DNA alteration. It is also contributes to ground-level ozone.
Independent studies, have detected dangerous levels of formaldehyde in both wastewater and ambient air emissions from fracking operations. One researcher, with the Houston Advanced Research Center, said reading from one test site in North Texas, “astoundingly high,” and, “I’ve never heard of ambient (formaldehyde) concentrations that high… except in Brazil.”
6. Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs)
In actuality, this is not a single listing—polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) is an entire class of toxic chemicals, linked together by their unique chemical structure and reactive properties.
Many PAHs are known human carcinogens and genetic mutagens. In addition, there are particular prenatal health risks: prenatal exposure to PAHs is linked to childhood asthma, low birth weight, adverse birth outcomes including heart malformations and DNA damage.
Additionally, recent studies link exposure to childhood behavior disorders; researchers from Columbia University, in a 2012 Columbia University study, found a strong link between prenatal PAH exposure and early childhood depression. Infants found to have elevated PAH levels in their umbilical cord blood were 46% more likely to eventually score highly on the anxiety/depression scale than those with low PAH levels in cord blood. The study was published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.
Mercury is a dangerous neurotoxin emitted from coal-fired power plants and any other combustion source using coal for fuel – like the Midlothian cement plants. It damages the brain and the nervous system either through inhalation, ingestion or contact with the skin. It is particularly dangerous to pregnant women and children. It is known to disrupt the development of the in-vitro brain. In low doses, mercury may affect a child’s development, delaying walking and talking, shortening attention span, and causing learning disabilities. High dose prenatal and infant exposures to mercury can cause mental retardation, cerebral palsy, deafness and blindness. In adults, mercury poisoning can adversely affect fertility and blood pressure regulation and can cause memory loss, tremors, vision loss and numbness of the fingers and toes.
One out of every six women of childbearing age in the U.S. have blood mercury levels that could be harmful to a fetus, according to EPA reports. The EPA estimates that 300,000 children are born each year at risk for significant development disorders due to mercury exposure.
8. Silica (Silicon Dust/Sand)
Crystalline silica (“frac sand”) is a known human carcinogen; breathing silica dust can lead to silicosis, a form of lung disease with no cure. This is a hazard in the cement industry and threat to those living downwind of cement plants, and now it appears to be one for natural gas roughnecks and adjacent homeowners as well.
Silica is commonly used, in huge amounts, during fracking operations. Each stage of the process requires hundreds of thousands of pounds of silica quartz–containing sand. Millions of pounds may be used for a single well.
The presence of silica in fracking operations, simply put, is a major safety risk with a high likelihood of dangerous exposure. Case in point: researchers from the National Institutes of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recently collected air samples at 11 fracking sites in five different “fracking states” (CO, ND, PA, TX and AR) to evaluate worker exposure to silica. Every single site had measures higher than the NIOSH threshold for safe exposure—so high, in fact, that about one-third of the samples collected were even above the safe threshold for wearing a safety respirator mask. This was reported in May 2013 in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene.
Radon is a colorless, odorless, tasteless radioactive gas which causes lung cancer. It is the second largest cause of lung cancer in the U.S. after cigarette smoking. About 20,000 people per year die from lung cancer attributed to radon exposure according to the National Cancer Institute. Further, there is no known threshold below which radon exposures carries no risk.
Radon exposure can come from a variety of natural sources. However, fracking (natural gas) represents a significant new and increased source of radon exposure to millions of citizens. Radon is released into local groundwater and air during fracking operations. It also travels through pipelines to the point of use—be it a power plant or a home kitchen.
The science behind radon release and exposure is complex but explained well here by Christopher Busby, the Scientific Secretary of the European Committee on Radiation Risk, who warns that radon dangers from fracking “have not been addressed properly (or at all) by the environmental impact statements published by the operators, or by the Environmental Protection Agency in the USA.”
10. Hydrofluoric Acid (HF) / Hydrogen Fluoride
Hydrofluoric acid (HF) is “one of the most dangerous acids known.” HF can immediately damage lungs, leading to chronic lung disease; contact on skin penetrates to deep tissue, including bone, where it alters cellular structure. HF can be fatal if inhaled, swallowed, or absorbed through skin.
The senior laboratory safety coordinator at the University of Tennessee said, “Hydrofluoric Acid is an acid like no other. It is so potent that contact with it may not even be noticed until long after serious damage has been done.”
Hydrofluoric Acid is a common ingredient used in oil and gas extraction.
Numerous studies, including recent ones conducted by both The Center for Public Integrity (CPI) and the United Steelworkers Union (USU) cite the oil industry’s abysmal safety record as a high risk factor for a major HF accident; over the past decade, more than 7,600 accidental chemical releases from refineries have been reported by the industry. In the past three years alone, a total of 131 “minor” accidents involved HF.
Considering how little public notice there was, yesterday's Dallas City Council "public comment time" on the new gas-drilling ordinance was well-attended by residents supporting the Plan Commission Draft. Over two dozen people spoke in favor of the CPC recommendations, including the 1500 foot setback, and/or stronger language for parks and flood plains. Murky statements by the Mayor about whether speaking this week would disqualify you from also having your say at next week's public hearing immediately prior to the final Council vote kept other residents from going to the podium.
True to whatever consultant's media training rule book they're following, industry representatives waited until they thought citizen testimony ended to make their condescending case that citizens were relying only on fear and didn't really understand the fracking process. The problem with this strategy is that you have to pretend the previous 45 minutes of citizen testimony never happened, since it's always replete with references to new scientific studies showing increased health harms from fracking, or another connection with earthquakes, or just strange foamy crap falling out of the sky into your yard from the rig down the street. It turns out the industry folks are the ones who don't really know the process.
And as fate would have it, citizens weren't through testifying. Right after telling the City Council how much West Dallas would lose out by not embracing fracking in its neighborhoods, up popped a West Dallas resident who said she wanted nothing to do with the industry, no matter how much money was involved. After another industry spokesman again said supporters of a stronger ordinance were just imagining harms they weren't really there, Sierra Club member Molly Rooke gave a devastatingly effective presentation on exactly how real harms to real people had forced her own group to acknowledge the dangers of gas pollution after initially endorsing natural gas as an entirely green fuel.
Unlike the staff briefing of two weeks ago, which allowed industry supporters on the Council to bloviate at will over what a crime it was to limit drilling in Big D, nobody behind the horseshoe did any talking except the Mayor, who was perfunctory in his opening and closing remarks and didn't give any clues as to his position on the CPC draft. According to Rawlings, it was his idea to have this "public comment time" prior to the final hearing so there wouldn't be the pile-up there was during the Trinity East vote, where you felt more like you were a cog in an assembly line instead of a citizen participating in one the small pageants of American democracy.
At the end of the meeting, Texas Campaign for the Environment members unfurled a banner urging Rawlings to "Be Strong," which was quickly confiscated by the City Hall Police Rapid Protest Response Team. Here's the Dallas Morning News' muted coverage of the event.
Because of the weather, Dallas Residents at Risk is waiting until next Monday to gin up a final push for passage of the Plan Commission draft going into Wednesday's final public hearing and vote beginning at 1 pm at City Hall. Please stay tuned for details about how you can express your public support and send a message to the Council to pass a strong ordinance. We know we sound like a broken record, but if you haven't sent a quick e-mail to the Mayor yet, you can click here and do so within a minute pretty painlessly. If you want a short explanation of what's going and what votes are where, you can read this previous post and get caught-up.
We have only a week to make sure our last year's worth of hard uphill slogging through corruption, double-dealing, and aggressively ignorant bureaucracies is not in vain. Please help us make it the last 1500 feet.
A new study being published in the November issue of Epidemiology concludes that even low levels of pollution from solid waste incinerators causes an increase in premature births downwind.
Italian researchers examined over 21,000 births to women living within four kilometers of one of eight solid waste incinerators operating in the Emilia-Romagna region.
"Each newborn was georeferenced and characterized by a specific level of exposure to incinerator emissions, categorized in quintiles of PM10, and other sources of pollution (NOx quartiles), evaluated by means of ADMS-Urban system dispersion models. We ran logistic regression models for each outcome, adjusting for exposure to other pollution sources and maternal covariates.
Preterm delivery increased with increasing exposure….A similar trend was observed for very preterm babies. Several sensitivity analyses did not alter these results. Maternal exposure to incinerator emissions, even at very low levels, was associated with preterm delivery"
Now, you can reassure yourself that we have no single-purpose solid waste incinerators around these parts the way they do on he East Coast or Midwest, so we don't have to worry about this kind of threat. But that's not entirely accurate.
We do have solid waste incinerators in North Texas, they're just called cement kilns. And we have more incinerator capacity than anyone else in the country when it comes to cement kilns.
And, as it turns out, these cement kilns are expanding their lists of available "fuel" to include solid wastes, as well as coal – medical, municipal, and "hard to burn" plastics, as well as car parts, shingles and carpet remains. It's all part of the new wonderful world of commercial garbage burning. If the kilns happen to make some money in the process of turning themselves into under-regulated incinerators, well, all the better for their operators.
For example, and try not to throw up, in the Philippines, the local cement plant is marketing the burning of "Holcimables." What are "Holcimables" you ask? They're "plastics – styrofoam, sando bags, cellophanes and foil packs – textile and rubber." Yes, the same company that operates a cement kiln in North Texas is burning styrofoam in the name of environmental-friendliness in the Philippines. You can bet the Italian incinerators included in this new study were burning some of the same kinds of wastes with the same ingredients.
Burning stuff is bad, whether it's in an incinerator or a cement kiln. And industry is making it very hard to tell the difference.
As of Thursday, the air you breathe CAN kill you, at least according to the World Health Organization, which officially classified air pollution as a cause of lung cancer. The move came after the group released a report earlier this year estimating that over 220,000 people died from lung cancer worldwide from exposure to bad air. Most of those deaths are occurring in countries in Asia.
Mostly these deaths are due to Particulate Matter pollution, the ubiquitous tiny particles of soot that are produced when things burn, like gas in cars, coal or gas or waste in power plants and cement kilns, and diesel engines and flares in the the gas fields.
Researchers have been producing one study after another for years linking a variety of illness and diseases to various ingredients of dirty air and specifically, Particulate Matter. Parkinson's Disease and other nerve and brain-related ailments, heart attacks and strokes, and of course respiratory problems have all been blamed on PM, but this is the first time it's been classified as a carcinogen. Most scientists in the field believe that there's really no level of exposure to the pollution that's completely "safe."
PM levels in DFW are generally low, but they've been rising over the last couple of years, and those measured levels are based on all of two monitors for all of the Metromess, so they could mask hot spots downwind of large sources (think Midlothian, compressors, and busy freeways). The EPA has proposed a new federal standard that's much lower than the current one, but it has yet to be implemented.