About a dozen people turned out Thursday evening to learn more about issues related to emissions and odors at the Amerities plant in The Dalles.
The event was an informational open house put on by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). Three information tables were set up for guests to talk one-on-one with officials about topics including the permitting process, health topics and the agency’s new nuisance odor strategy.
Every five years, Amerities must renew its Standard Air Contamination Discharge Permit through the DEQ. The company’s permit expired in April 2013, although the company properly applied for renewal in February 2013. It is operating under the former permit until renewal is completed by the DEQ, according to information provided by the agency.
Emissions from Amerities are well below permit allowances. The permit limits particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide and volatile organic compounds. Since the manufacturing plant, which employs 46 people and has produced creosote-impregnated railroad ties since 1922, has received a number of odor complaints over the last five years, DEQ also provided information about its new nuisance odor strategy. The plant has received 81 complaints since 2009.
“Odor has been brought up in the past,” said Frank Messina of the DEQ, who is overseeing the permit process. “That’s why we wanted to have this public meeting.”
Sources of odors at the plant include pressure treating operations, railroad ties drying on the drip pad, and railroad ties out in the yard, a DEQ report stated.
The nuisance odor strategy, which took effect in January of this year, has not yet been triggered in Amerities’ case.
Since its last permit was issued, Amerities has implemented changes designed to address odor issues including:
• staggered retort load and unload times,
• extended the east wall of the treatment plant to improve the mist system mixing zone,
• shortened retort door open times,
• installed plastic freezer strips below the east wall.
Messina outlined the three-phase odor process and noted that the goal of the process is to resolve issues in the first phase, which involves evaluation, investigation and informal solutions. The ideal outcome of the process, said the DEQ’s Bryan Smith, who also spoke, is a Best Work Practices Agreement arrived at between the involved company and the DEQ.
Failure in the first phase would trigger the remainder of the process, including an official notice of suspected nuisance and the prospect of enforcement.
Developing the DEQ odor nuisance process involved a wide range of disciplines within the department, and also involved the Oregon Health Authority, which was represented at the meeting.
Naphthalene is the odor-producing chemical at Amerities, said David Farrer, a public health toxicologist at the Oregon Health Authority. The authority’s aim is to have an ambient air content of 0.3 micrograms per cubic centileter of naphthalene.
“That 0.3 is based on a one-in-a-million cancer risk,” Farrer said.
The Dalles air content has been measured at many times higher than that, Farrer said, at 13 micrograms per cubic centileter.
Cancer risk goes up by a factor of 10, he explained, so 3 micrograms presents a one-in-100,000 risk, 30 micrograms a one-in-10,000 risk, and so on.
“But even a one-in-10,000 risk is still what we consider fairly low,” Farrer said.
And Amerities isn’t the only contributor of naphthalene to the ambient air quality in The Dalles. Motor vehicle emissions and wood fire smoke are also contributors.
That’s the health risk from the chemical itself, Farrer said, but the Oregon Health Authority also cares about odor, because the perception odor itself can cause symptoms like headache and nausea. The challenge in odor control is that the health effect is highly variable from person to person.
Illustrating that point were comments from two of the people who took the time to attend the open house. One said the odor is “obnoxious,” another said it “smells like work. It doesn’t bother us.”
DEQ’s next steps in the permitting process will be to draft a permit renewal. The public will have an opportunity to address conditions in the draft permit.
For more information on the draft permit, contact Frank Messina at 541-388-6146.
For more information on the odor nuisance process, contact Bryan Smith at 503-229-5376.
Odor complaints may be made online at www.deq.state.or.us or by calling 800-452-4011.