in Ashland, LaCrosse have highest state dioxin emissions
Regulators say figures not
Ashland Daily Press
Two Xcel Energy utility plants, in Ashland and LaCrosse,
were among the top four dioxin producers during 2000 in
Wisconsin, according to new statistics from the Environmental
Protection Agency -- however, that does not ring alarm
bells for regulators.
The data was part of an annual self-reporting of chemicals
released into the environment by industry called the Toxic
Release Inventory (TRI). As reported to the EPA, total
chemical releases into the environment decreased nationwide
from 7.8 billion pounds in 1999 to 7.1 billion pounds
Dioxin and "dioxin-like" chemicals were newly added to
the list for 2000. Although other toxic chemicals are
reported in pounds, dioxins are listed in grams.
That's because dioxins, which have been shown to produce
cancer in animals and possibly humans, are toxic in "very,
very small quantities," said Tara Edblom, Department of
Natural Resources TRI coordinator for Wisconsin.
While Xcel's Bayfront plant in Ashland and its French
Island plant in LaCrosse reported 3 and 28 grams of dioxins
released respectively, that doesn't necessarily produce
any alarm bells for regulators.
For example, backyard burning of trash produces much
larger quantities of dioxins than most industrial sources,
But, Eric Uram, a Sierra Club spokesman in Madison, the
numbers are alarming. Even gram amounts are enough to
contaminate millions of people, he said.
The numbers are an indication that power plants are not
burning their fuel efficiently, or burning clean fuels.
Dioxins are produced when different materials are burned.
Uram said polls have shown that people are willing to
spend more money for energy if it's produced with cleaner
fuels and technology.
Tina Ball, senior environmental analyst for Xcel, said
the dioxin numbers they reported are probably higher than
what they actually produce.
Ball said the company doesn't actually monitor dioxin
emissions from their plants but use EPA standard emission
data to estimate those numbers. Because those numbers
are based on burning coal, and the Bayfront plant burns
quite a bit of wood along with coal, the actual amount
of emissions are likely lower than what they reported,
Also, dioxins are a group of about 17 related compounds,
some of which are many thousands of times more toxic than
others, Ball said. And the dioxin types they report emitting
are not the most toxic, she said.
DNR environmental toxicologist Jeff Myers said in the
big picture, utilities are far down the list of dioxin-producing
Among the big three producers are medical and municipal
waste incinerators, which are regulated, and back yard
trash burning, which is not.
An EPA study last year showed that one family burn barrel
can produce as much dioxin and other pollutants as a well-regulated
municipal incinerator serving tens of thousands of households.
"The utilities have not been identified as a major source
of dioxin emissions," Myers said.
That's not to say companies should not keep trying to
burn cleaner fuels or use cleaner-burning technologies,
Myers pointed out another inconsistency in the TRI data
The EPA statistics show the state's power plants ranked
third in the nation after Virginia and Florida for emissions
of dioxin and dioxin-like compounds.
That can be misleading, he said. Some states, like Wisconsin,
do a very good job at making sure companies report their
emissions, while other states are not as rigorous. Therefore,
a higher ranking could indicate a higher level of reporting
enforcement, and not necessarily higher actual pollution,
For more information on the latest TRI report and data,
go to the EPA's website at: www.epa.gov/tri/tridata/tri00/index.htm.