Sunday, June 3, 2007

DSM Register: AIR - Bioethanol Plants Emit High Level of Toxins

Air: Plants emit higher levels of toxics than expected
Facilities have run key tests at less-than-full capacity and exceeded limits for harmful emissions.
By PERRY BEEMAN | REGISTER STAFF WRITER | Des Moines Register | June 3, 2007 |

Six plants in Iowa have released more lung-harming particles than their permits allow.

Air pollution from the plants can irritate lungs and contribute to smog that threatens people's health. Some chemicals released by ethanol plants are classified as cancer-causing compounds. The Register analyzed 34 plants operating over six years.

The infractions are perhaps the most surprising in biofuels plants' environmental performance, said Wayne Gieselman, Iowa's environmental-protection chief. That's because as the industry grew in Iowa, no one expected the levels of cancer-causing chemicals emitted by both combustion and the production processes at the plants.

Peter Weyer of the University of Iowa Center for the Health Effects of Environmental Contamination said that the air risks are typically an acute, short-term issue. Often, the emissions would affect only those who are particularly sensitive, like those with asthma or other lung ailments.

Among the most serious violators in Iowa has been Quad County Corn Processors Cooperative in Galva. In 2000, the company said in its construction permit application that it would emit less than 70 tons a year of volatile organic compounds, the solvents and chemicals that can irritate lungs and cause pulmonary problems. Tests later showed that the distiller's grain dryer alone was capable of emitting 732 tons.


Air emissions "caught us off guard," said Monte Shaw, executive director of the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association. But plants moved quickly to add pollution-control equipment, at a cost of $2 million per plant, he said.


The state also has found several biofuel companies testing their emissions when the plant was running at low capacity, resulting in lower estimates of air pollution.

Siouxland manager Bernie Punt said the plant has hired an environmental safety officer, an engineer who has worked for the Department of Natural Resources. Changes in state regulations on sewage and a new water supply have made it easier for the plant to comply with discharge limits. The plant added iron filters and reverse-osmosis water treatment.


Tests at the Lincolnway Energy plant in Nevada [Iowa] during December 2006 and January 2007 showed the plant emitted 11 times the particulate matter allowed by its permit in one part of the plant. Emissions of chemical compounds known as volatile organic compounds were double the limit.


The Central Iowa Renewable Energy plant in Goldfield also has been cited for potentially underreporting emissions by running tests during times when production was lower, instead of at full capacity as required.

Biofuels plants send greenhouse gases and toxic compounds into the air, and an even greater amount when plants burn coal instead of natural gas.

In Iowa, six ethanol plants burn coal: Lincolnway Energy in Nevada, ADM in Cedar Rapids and Clinton, Corn LP in Goldfield, and Cargill in Eddyville.


Brian Hutchins of the state air-quality bureau said many biofuels plants are nearing the point where they would require more pollution-control equipment and techniques, and more elaborate permit requirements.


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