By Benjamin Gohs
Following months of testing, taking comments and holding a public hearing on the matter, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) has approved the Kirtland Products plan to modify its emissions of particulate matter.
According to the MDEQ’s Air Quality Division, it received 23 written comments regarding the issue during the public comment period in 2013, and 12 verbal comments during the Nov. 13, 2013, public hearing on the matter.
“After careful consideration of the issues and pursuant to the delegation of authority from the Director of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, I have approved Permit to Install No. 47-11B, with no modifications,” stated G. Vinson Hellwig, Chief of the Air Quality Division of the MDEQ in a Jan. 21 letter to Kirtland Products Quality Manger Tom Johnson…. “This approval is based upon, and subject to, compliance with all administrative rules of the MDEQ and conditions stipulated.”
Conditions of the new permit include the following provisions:
Kirtland shall not reconstruct, relocate or modify process equipment covered by the permit without a permit stating they may do so is issued.
The requested modifications must be installed, constructed, reconstructed, relocated or modified within 18 months or the permit shall be voided, unless otherwise authorized by the MDEQ.
The new permit may be revoked if the MDEQ finds Kirtland is not operating its equipment within the parameters set in the permit.
Operation of the equipment shall not emit contaminants that cause injury to human, animal, plant or property safety or health.
Kirtland must notify the MDEQ Air Quality Division if any abnormal start-up, shutdown or malfunction results in emission of hazardous or toxic air pollutants which continue for more than one hour in excess of any applicable standard or limitation, or emissions of any air contaminant continuing for more than two hours in excess of an applicable standard or limitation.
Collected air contaminants must be removed as necessary to maintain the required operating efficiency of the equipment.
Boyne City Planning Director Scott McPherson discussed questions from Boyne City Commissioner Laura Sansom concerning the impact of Kirtland’s emissions on the surrounding area.
McPherson said he consulted with an MDEQ official and was told the prevention of significant deterioration limits for the particulate matter are well under the allowable limit, and that the maximum impact is on Kirtland’s property.
“As you move away from Kirtland, the amount of impact reduces,” McPherson said.
Boyne City Commissioner Delbert “Gene” Towne asked if the city really has any options left in dealing with Kirtland.
“With regards to environmental or with regards to the issue that the DEQ ruled on, I don’t think we do,” Cain said. “With regards to the whole broad range of city options with regard to Kirtland I think that would be something, if the commission wanted me to, I could review with the city attorney and bring back to the commission.”
Cain said the city still receives complaints about the noise produced at Kirtland.
Both Sansom and Towne said they would like Cain to look into Kirtland further with the help of the city’s attorney.
“Yeah, it’s frustrating because, I think, when you can see it, taste it and smell it and when the state says that that’s OK, it’s meeting its standards,” said Boyne City Commissioner Tom Neidhamer. “And, they did say in their comments, when it was visible it was malfunctioning, and they were ticketed. So, therefore, most of the time you will not see the particulate.”
He added, “We do have a certain population that is still frustrated because of the health concern but the state says there should be no health concern.”
Neidhamer said he agrees with Towne that the issue should remain in the forefront of the city’s consciousness and at least review the matter to determine what options the city has.
“I feel that there is a lot of frustration out there in the community that has not been resolved,” Sansom said.
Sansom said she believes the noise from Kirtland is getting louder.
Boyne City Mayor Ron Grunch also agreed that options for dealing with Kirtland should be further researched.
The issue began when Kirtland Products started making wood stove fuel pellets from a 60/40 mix of green softwood and hardwood chips, in December 2011, at 1 Altair Drive in Boyne City’s Air Industrial Park.
The fuel pellets are made using a wood fuel-fired, three-pass rotary dryer, conveyors, hammer mills, pelletizers, cooling and storage silos. The green wood chips are brought into the Boyne City facility before they are ground, dried, ground finer by a hammer mill, turned into pellets and then cooled.
According to the MDEQ, this process was tested in September 2012, and it was determined that particulate emissions from the green wood grinding, pelletizing and cooling operations violated initial permit limits.
To resolve the matter, Kirtland requested modification to its permitted emissions levels that would upwardly adjust some emissions while reducing limits on allowable emissions.
This adjustment created an overall reduction in acceptable emissions under MDEQ standards.
In its response to concerned citizens, the MDEQ stated that there were no changes made to the draft permit based on any of the comments received from the public.
The MDEQ gave an overview of comments made by the public and issued a response to them.
No comments in support of the permit modifications were received.
Following are highlights of the comments and responses:
Concern: Particulate matter resembling fine sawdust was found in the snow near the plant and in a nearby neighborhood after two days of operation.
Response: “The Air Quality Division (AQD) is aware of three isolated incidents involving separate equipment malfunctions that resulted in the deposition of wood dust particulate in areas surrounding the Kirtland Products plant,” the MDEQ Air Quality Division stated in its Jan. 21 response to concerns. “A Violation Notice was issued for one of those incidents and the process problem was corrected. Kirtland Products has a Malfunction Abatement Plan (MAP) to prevent these incidents from re-occurring.”
It further stated, “If the AQD is notified in a timely manner of particulate fall-out impacting private property, then the AQD can respond by collecting samples of the material. The AQD can verify the source, and then follow up with the appropriate enforcement action, if necessary.”
Concern: There were numerous concerns with public health because particulates, volatile organic compounds (VOC), toxic compounds and odors are emitted from Kirtland Products.
Response: The Air Quality Division utilizes state and federal air quality rules—including National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) of the Federal Clean Air Act—to protect public health and the environment.
“These standards define the maximum concentration of certain air pollutants in the breathing zone that protect the health of the most sensitive individuals, including those with heart, respiratory, neurological and asthma problems. The allowed emissions from the facility were evaluated and found to meet these health protective air quality standards,” the MDEQ stated in its response.
According to the MDEQ, the emissions from wood combustion can emit carcinogens like benzene, acetaldehyde and formaldehyde but, at the highest impact point—an area immediately east of Kirtland’s facility—the carcinogens levels were “low” and “associated with a lifetime extra cancer risk of less than one in 100,000 people over a lifetime.”
MDEQ further stated, “Other non-carcinogen pollutants can have irritating effects, but the highest impacts were found to have levels far below irritating concentrations.”
Concern: Emissions limits for Kirtland’s pollutants seem too high, and Michigan’s emissions levels seem excessive.
Response: While some states have higher anti-pollution standards than Michigan’s, no state’s regulations can be any less stringent than federal rules.
“The AQD (Air Quality Division) reviews all sources of air contaminant emissions to make sure that these laws are met,” the MDEQ stated…. “The emissions from the proposed modifications were evaluated and … were shown to meet those standards.”
Concern: Commenters stated particulate “fall-out” and emissions directly impact their homes and cause eye and throat irritation, dizziness, breathing disorders and shakiness.
Response: “Findings do not suggest that the permitted emissions would result in health effects to local residents, including children,” the MDEQ stated…. “While fall-out of wood particles may be a nuisance, it is not anticipated to pose health problems or have long-term effects.”
The Air Quality Division can issue a violation notice to Kirtland if particulate fall-out is found to “pose an unreasonable interference with the comfortable enjoyment of life and property for nearby residents.”
The Air Quality Division will continue to work with the community to investigate and address any problems under its purview.
Concern: Lead, DDT and asbestos were once thought safe for use. So, how does the community know Kirtland’s emissions are truly safe?
Response: “There is a significant amount of information regarding the emissions from wood drying and wood combustion,” the MDEQ stated…. “The AQD has evaluated and verified the emissions from the process and performed dispersion modeling in order to compare the predicted ambient impacts to the health-protective standards and applicable screening levels.”
It added, “Therefore, the AQD does not anticipate health problems associated with the facility emissions.”
Concern: Kirtland’s application states it is in a remote area but it is actually near the public school.
Response: “The application stating this facility is in a remote area is referring to the location of the facility being identified as in a rural area instead of an urban area. The determination on whether a facility is in a rural or urban area is necessary to ensure the proper input parameters are used in dispersion modeling,” the MDEQ stated.
Concern: School locations and varying wind direction—such as occasional winds from the east—were not considered when modeling was performed.
Response: EPA air dispersion models were used to predict the facility’s maximum ambient air concentration.
“These models take into account the potential equipment emissions, local meteorology, surrounding terrain, and local turbulence resulting from air currents passing over facility structures,” stated the MDEQ. “Five years of local meteorology was taken into account when determining pollutant impacts. Using this span of meteorology ensures the worst-case meteorological conditions are evaluated. During the five years evaluated, there were instances where winds were from an easterly direction; therefore, east wind patterns were included in the AQD’s modeling evaluation.”
Also, Kirtland’s particulate matter impact on the Boyne City Elementary School playground is 38 percent lower than the national standard allows.
Concern: Kirtland is in a valley that traps emissions, and there are days where emissions do not dissipate and the emissions do not go up.
Response: “Terrain is taken into account in the dispersion modeling, so the elevation changes due to the facility being located in a valley are considered,” the MDEQ stated. “The worse-case meteorological conditions used in the dispersion modeling include inversion periods where the emissions dissipate poorly due to the terrain.”
Concern: Kirtland’s exhaust stacks are too short due to FAA rules.
Response: “The stacks at Kirtland Products are at the AQD allowed heights. The AQD recommends that stacks be no shorter than 1.5 times the building height. All stacks at Kirtland Products are greater than 1.5 times the building height, and two of the stacks are 2.5 times the building height for optimum air pollution dispersion,” stated the MDEQ. “Kirtland Products received approval from the FAA for the stack heights once the proposed heights were determined to meet the air quality standards prior to construction. Therefore, the stacks were not found to be too short for the operations at Kirtland Products.”
Concern: Kirtland’s odor impacts the community.
Response: The MDEQ stated that, according to “Rule 901,” it is unlawful to produce emissions that unreasonably interfere with comfortable enjoyment of life and property.
“If a violation of Rule 901 should occur due to process operations, the permit includes sufficient terms and conditions to allow the AQD to enforce this rule and address any such problems in the community,” the MDEQ stated…. “The AQD staff has been responsive, visiting the plant site and the surrounding areas on more than 20 occasions, frequently when the meteorological conditions are conducive for odors. The AQD staff has also spent time advising local residents of ways to report odors.”
Concern: Kirtland produces odors resembling campfire smoke and toxic chemicals which permeate clothing and buildings.
Response: “The drying and combustion of wood products can smell like smoke from a campfire and these types of odors can be a nuisance when of a significant frequency, intensity and duration. It is important to remember that being able to detect an odor is not the same as having an unreasonable interference from an odor,” stated the MDEQ. “When promptly notified, the AQD staff can take actions; including conducting an odor survey, to determine if a nuisance odor exists that interferes with the comfortable enjoyment of life and property.”
Concern: Kirtland is incompatible in its current location.
Response: “The location of any facility is an issue addressed by local government through the planning and zoning processes. The AQD does not control the site selection for industrial facilities nor does it have jurisdiction over local zoning issues,” the MDEQ stated…. “The compatibility of the source with its location is only under review by the AQD as far as emissions to the air are concerned.”
Concern: Kirtland’s noise levels occasionally disturb sleep.
Response: Air pollution control laws do not address noise issues.
Concern: Kirtland should be shut down for violating its allowable emissions levels.
Response: “The AQD gives facilities the opportunity to resolve noncompliance issues. Kirtland Products proposed modifications in order to address the noncompliance identified. Through modifications to the permit, a demonstration was made that the facility is meeting all air quality standards,” stated the MDEQ…. “If compliance problems persist, additional actions could include entering a consent order with the company, which would include a federally enforceable plan to get the facility into compliance, and an assessment of fines and penalties.”
It further stated, “The AQD does not have the legal authority to revoke a permit or shut down a violating facility without first giving the owner of the facility the opportunity to come into compliance.”
Concern: Kirtland’s exhaust plume is aesthetically disturbing.
Response: “Visible emissions are possible from the wood pelletizing process. The visible white plume (water vapor) from the facility is caused by the drying of wood which contains water. The brown to brownish gray smoke meets the definition of opacity. Opacity is defined as the degree to which an air emission reduces the transmission of light or obscures an observer’s view…. [T]he opacity that has been observed from the facility is in compliance with the limits of the permit.”
Kirtland officials did not return phone calls by press time.