cracks down on ethanol plants Release
of harmful toxins worrisome with growing industry Associated Press
May 7 Factories
that convert corn into the gasoline additive ethanol are
releasing carbon monoxide, methanol and some carcinogens
at levels many times greater than they promised, the government
IN AN APRIL 24 letter to the industrys
trade group, the Environmental Protection Agency said the
problem is common to most, if not all, ethanol facilities.
Officials in EPAs Chicago
office, which oversees nearly half the industrys
plants, are planning a meeting with company officials in
five states to insist on changes to reduce the emissions.
So far theyve been
quite amenable. Theyre coming in. Theyre aware
of the issues, said Cynthia King, an EPA attorney.
The governments crackdown
comes while the ethanol industry presses to significantly
expand production as many states phase out another widely
used fuel additive, MTBE, because it is polluting water
supplies. Last week the Senate passed legislation at the
behest of farm groups that would more than double ethanol
use by 2010.
One of the benefits of
engaging the industry on this is that they are in a very
aggressive growth mode right now, said George Czerniak,
chief of the air enforcement and compliance assurance branch
in EPAs Chicago office.
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs)
being released by the ethanol plants include formaldehyde
and acetic acid, both carcinogens. Methanol, although not
known to cause cancer, also is classified as a hazardous
The fumes are produced when fermented
corn mash is dried for sale as a supplement for livestock
feed. Devices known as thermal oxidizers can be attached
to the plants to burn off the dangerous gases.
Recent tests have found VOC emissions ranging
from 120 tons a year, for some of the smallest plants, up
to 1,000 tons annually, agency officials said. It isnt
known whether the chemicals are hazardous to nearby residents,
When the plants were built, many
reported VOC emissions well below 100 tons a year, allowing
them to bypass a lengthy and stringent EPA permitting process.
Plants with emissions above 100 tons annually are classified
as major sources of pollution under the Clean
Air Act and are more heavily regulated.
States started measuring VOC
emissions at ethanol plants about a year ago following complaints
of foul odors. One small facility in St. Paul, Minn., had
to install $1 million in pollution control equipment to
reduce the emissions.
To the extent that this
new test procedure is identifying new VOC emissions, the
industry has certainly agreed to address those, said
Bob Dinneen, president of the Renewable Fuels Association,
the recipient of EPAs letter.
There are 61 ethanol plants,
primarily in the Midwest, producing 2.3 billion gallons
a year, and another 14 under construction. By the end of
next year, the industrys output is expected to reach
3 billion gallons.
EPAs Chicago region oversees
25 plants in Illinois, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and
Indiana. The agencys Kansas City regional office,
responsible for Iowa and Nebraska, two other big ethanol
producing states, is still gathering test results. Agency
officials there have not said what they will do.
Most ethanol facilities are in
rural areas. One thats not, the Gopher State Ethanol
plant in St. Paul, Minn., has been the target of complaints
from nearby residents. A neighborhood group settled a lawsuit
against the company last month.
When the plants were built, it
was thought methanol and ethanol would be the major pollutants,
said Jim Warner, an official with the Minnesota Pollution
As a gasoline additive, ethanol
is seen by environmentalists as having pluses and minuses.
Because it is more volatile than other additives, such as
MTBE, it increases the release of VOCs from cars. At the
same time, it reduces tailpipe emissions of carbon monoxide
and other toxins.
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