Questions regarding the new air permit for Petmin USA:
The team has compiled a list of questions that the residents of Ashtabula, and any one who visits or uses Lake Erie and surrounding communites may have regarding the air permit. At the hearing on 5.7.2020, where 82 people joined in virtually, many more questions were raised. The EPA answers to these questions follow this list.
ACWW Questions/Comments on Petmin Draft Permit-to-Install 4/2/2020
1. This facility will be a major emitter of nitrogen oxides (NOx) and minor emitter of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). We are concerned about the local increase in ozone levels as a byproduct of NOx and VOC emissions. According to the EPA’s EJSCREEN mapping tool, areas within a 1-mile radius of the proposed pig iron plant rank within the bottom 18 percent (highest levels of ozone) of all monitored areas in the United States for ozone levels.
We understand that Ashtabula County is not currently listed as a non-attainment zone for ozone based on having less than 70 parts per billion (ppb) in 8-hour ozone emissions from data collected at the Conneaut monitoring station. Is this determination based on an average of 8-hour ozone emissions over some period of time, or on individual episodes exceeding the 70 ppb limit, or some other method? Where can the public review archived data from the Conneaut monitoring station to confirm that ozone readings meet these standards? I have searched the EPA’s “Air Quality Reports for Ohio” and have found data for the Conneaut station is only provided for the current and previous day relative to the search.
2. We understand that classification of Ashtabula County as an attainment zone for ozone (and other pollutants) is based on standards set in 2015. The 2015 threshold for attainment is 70 ppb whereas the 2008 threshold was 75 ppb, and in general the threshold has consistently decreased over time. Is it expected that a review and update of ozone attainment levels in 2020 would result in another decrease and would this affect Ashtabula County’s classification as attainment for ozone?
3. Based on current ozone levels as measured at the Conneaut monitoring station, is it anticipated that ozone emissions (as byproduct of NOx and VOCs) from the pig iron plant will increase ozone levels enough to reclassify Ashtabula County as a non-attainment zone? Has any analysis been done so far to answer this? If the pig iron plant emissions push Ashtabula County past the 70 ppb threshold for 8-hour ozone, how will this affect the ability of future industries that emit ozone (or ozone precursors) to construct and operate facilities within the county?
4. We understand that classification of Ashtabula County as an attainment zone for ozone (and other pollutants) is based on data collected from a single monitoring station in Conneaut, Ohio. Is this correct? Can you please explain the process by which data from monitoring stations is collected, analyzed, and used to make attainment/nonattainment classifications? We are concerned that data from a single monitoring station in Conneaut does not accurately represent the entire county, and that it will not be sufficient to monitor potentially hazardous levels of NOx, ozone, and CO emitted from the Petmin facility in the City of Ashtabula.
5. We understand that attainment/nonattainment zones are determined by County geography. Does it concern the Ohio EPA that under similar guidelines, if attainment/nonattainment zones were based on City geography, Ashtabula City would qualify as a nonattainment zone, and therefore this proposed Petmin project would not be granted a permit to pollute based on the additional pollutants that this pig iron plant will emit, further decreasing the air quality in the City of Ashtabula?
6. Based on the response to comment “f.” under topic 5. (Public Health) in the first air permit-to-install (2/6/2019), hourly and annual emissions of nitrogen oxide gases exceed Significant Impact Levels, and hourly nitrogen oxide emissions exceed the typical EPA rule of being less than 50% of the PSD increment (in this case the PSD increment was NA so the GAII was used). However, the EPA sometimes allows emissions up to 83% of PSD increments. The hourly nitrogen oxide emissions from the plant were modeled at 70% of the GAII increment. In this new draft permit, nitrogen oxide emissions have increased by 56.7 tons per year. Can you please explain how this will affect NOx emissions as a percentage of the PSD increment?
7. In the response to comment “c.” under topic 5. (Public Health) in the first air permit-to-install (2/6/2019), there was a table showing that the modeled hourly NO2 emissions were 162.32 mg/cubic meter, and that the NAAQS standard is 188 mg/cubic meter. Now that NOx emissions are being increased by 56.7 tons per year in the new permit application, will hourly NO2 emissions exceed the NAAQS standard of 188 mg/cubic meter?
8. In the response to comment “c.” under topic 5. (Public Health) in the first air permit-to-install (2/6/2019), there was a table showing that the modeled hourly NO2 emissions were 162.32 milligrams/cubic meter, and that the NAAQS standard is 188 milligrams/cubic meter. The new permit shows that modeled NO2 emissions are 102.4 micrograms/cubic meter and that the NAAQS standard is 188 micrograms/cubic meter, which is a 10-fold decrease from what was stated in the first permit. Should it be milligrams per cubic meter or micrograms per cubic meter? Second, if annual emissions of NOx are proposed to increase by 56.7 tons in this new permit, why is the hourly NO2 emission rate shown to be lower relative to the GAII standard than in the original permit? Shouldn’t it increase because overall NOx emissions are increased? I do not feel comfortable with a final permit being issued until these discrepancies are resolved.
9. How can we be assured that accurate, hourly emissions of nitrogen oxides, particulate matter, and CO will not pose health risks to people living in close proximity to the plant? Please describe the techniques and frequency of monitoring these pollutants once the plant is operational.
10. What are the specific VOCs (volatile organic compounds) that will be released by the Petmin plant?
11. Right now the EPA only regulates PM 10 and PM 2.5 based on the concentrations of particles in the air, but not based on the chemical composition of the particles. There have been several published scientific studies showing that the chemical composition of particulate matter influences its toxicity and ability to generate free radicals, inflammation, and damage to human tissues. While chemical composition is not technically regulated, would Petmin and the EPA be amenable to conducting some chemical analysis of particle emissions from the pig iron facility to gain a better understanding of potential health effects?
12. Several published scientific studies have shown that certain iron species present in particulate matter emissions cause free radical formation and associated tissue damage when inhaled. Can you give us an idea of what, if any, iron compounds might be present in particulates emitted from this facility.
13. The permit stated that “no adverse impact upon soils or vegetation is expected.” Was deposition modeling done to show that the more than 390,000 tons of pollution that will be emitted by this plant every year will not cause damage to soils, vegetation, or bodies of water (Lake Erie) in the vicinity? If no deposition modeling was done, how can the permit state that “no adverse impact upon soils or vegetation is expected?”
14. In the first permit-to-install for this facility (2/6/2019), a CO2 recapture plant was required. This new permit would allow construction (and operation?) to begin without construction of the CO2 recapture plant. Can you clarify if this permit allows Petmin to operate the pig iron facility without the CO2 recapture plant being up and operational? If so, why was it required in the first permit but not this one?
15. The pig iron plant proposes to use 15,000 million BTUs of natural gas daily (Petminusa.com). This is more than double the consumption of every household in Ashtabula County combined. Much of this natural gas will likely be sourced from horizontal hydraulic fracturing, a process which is known to be highly damaging to the environment and public health. Not only will the gas be sourced from toxic hydrofracking, but fracking waste is returning to Ashtabula County and being pumped into any of 15 active injection wells where it threatens to contaminate water and soil in our rich farmlands. This raises the question of whether the economic gains anticipated from the pig iron plant outweigh the environmental and public health costs, including cumulative impacts from hydrofracking and future development associated with the Risberg gas pipeline, which seems to have been tailored to this project and can pave the way for more local industries that consume fracked gas. What analysis has been done to take into account these cumulative impacts?
16. What is the cost for filing a permit-to-install application with the Ohio EPA? How are funds collected from permit applications allocated? Are any funds received from permit applications allocated to funding EPA regulator/permit reviewer salaries?
17. Will the EPA consider emailing interested parties on the same day that public notices are printed in the newspaper? For this permit, interested parties were emailed almost a whole month after the notice was printed in the Star Beacon. Many concerned residents do not receive the newspaper daily and public notices are published in very fine print among many other notices. It is almost impossible for interested members of the public to find out about public hearings through the newspaper. Given the technical nature of permit documents and the lack of effort in helping the public understand these documents, it is almost impossible to read, research, and understand draft air permits with only 2 weeks notice.
18. In early April, 2020, several members of Ashtabula County Water Watch emailed Anthony Becker and Paul Braun of OEPA to request that the virtual hearing on 5/7/2020 be delayed and rescheduled for a time when an in-person meeting would be possible. We received responses from the OEPA deferring to Senate Bill 197 which allows the use of virtual meetings to replace in-person public hearings during the COVID-19 outbreak. We would like to state for the record that the lack of an in-person meeting is a form of censorship and a threat to public health for the following reasons:
a. Almost 20% of households in Ashtabula County do not have a computer. With libraries closed until at least May 29, 2020, per Governor DeWine’s policy, it is impossible to ensure access to the virtual meeting.
b. Ashtabula County is an underserved and marginalized community with a history of environmental degradation and associated poor health outcomes. Residents deserve access to processes that protect the welfare and health of its residents and their environment. The residents deserve the opportunity to voice concerns and have their questions answered.
c. In Ashtabula County, nearly 20% of the population is over the age of 65, and 17.4% of residents live in poverty (per US Census data).
d. The air permit should have to wait until a fair opportunity is available to hold a public meeting. With the current “stay at home orders,” new construction is not deemed essential. An estimated 500 people will be needed to build the plant and where will these folks come from? Where will they live? How will they be fed in the midst of “stay at home” orders in a city of 19,000? Residents are concerned.
19. Per your website and related article, the EPA has experienced significant decreases in funding, monitoring and enforcement (https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2020-04/documents/_epaoig_20200331 _20-p-0131.pdf). The report shows that monitoring and enforcement decreased by more than 50% between 2007 and 2018. In March 2020, due to COVID-19, normal monitoring requirements and penalties for violations were put on hold indefinitely. Because communities rely on the EPA to uphold standards and protect the health of residents, is this a good time to relax air quality standards for the projected pig iron plant when we have no way to ensure monitoring will be available in the future?
20. We understand that ultrafine particles (PM <0.1 micrometer) are a byproduct of combustion and will be emitted in significant quantities by this facility, because it proposes to conduct high levels of combustion for extended time periods. Ultrafine particles have been shown to cause serious negative health effects, possibly more detrimental than effects of regulated particles such as PM 10 and PM 2.5. However, the EPA does not regulate ultrafine particles. Why doesn’t the EPA regulate ultrafine particles? Do you expect that ultrafine particle emissions from this project could negatively affect the health of Ashtabula residents?
21. How will the Petmin pig iron plant, and its release of greenhouse gases contribute to climate change?
22. What emergency plan is going to be in place for accidental pollution discharges into air or water? Where can the public view this plan?
23. Petmin’s subsidiary, Tendele Coal Mining, has received numerous environmental violations and complaints in South Africa. It is alleged that Tendele’s Somkhele mine operated without a water license for 8 years, using large quantities of water to wash coal, in a drought-stricken region of South Africa. The Global Environmental Trust has sued Tendele based on water violations, relocation of residents living near the Somkhele mine against their will, and threats to rare wildlife located near the mine, including rhinoceros. Can we trust that Petmin will comply with its EPA permit here in Ashtabula? What monitoring and enforcement is in place to ensure this?
24. This new draft permit for Petmin’s pig iron facility shows emission levels of toxic pollutants that are in some cases two to six times higher than the original permit issued 2/6/2019. Can you please explain in terms of the manufacturing process why these increases are necessary? Can you explain why increasing particulate matter emissions by 5-fold, carbon dioxide by 6-fold, and doubling greenhouse gas emissions will not cause 2 or 5 or 6 times the amount of risk and damage to public health and the environment? What will happen if Petmin submits another permit requesting to emit double or triple or quadruple or sextuple the amount of pollution proposed in this permit?
25. The new Draft Permit to Install has the following chart at the top of the first page: No TOXIC REVIEW, Yes PSD, No SYNTHETIC MINOR TO AVOID MAJOR NSR, No CEMS, No MACT/GACT, Yes NSPS, No NESHAPS, No NETTING, No MAJOR NON-ATTAINMENT, Yes MODELING SUBMITTED Yes MAJOR GHG, No SYNTHETIC MINOR TO AVOID MAJOR GHG. Can you explain what these No’s and Yeses mean, and what effect they have on the Ohio EPA’s final decision?
26. “No air toxics modeling was required for this project.” Why would you not want to model the effects of adding the expected amount of air pollutants to the existing environmental conditions so that you would know what the effects of adding these pollutants will be on the citizens of this area and beyond?
27. Considering the significant increase in pollutants requested in this draft vs the original permit issued 2/6/2019, should there be serious thought to delay this hearing so that an “in person” meeting could be arranged? What is the rush to push this permit through the system?
28. “CO2 will be removed from a portion of the quenched gas stream (exiting the reduction reactor) through an absorption/desorption process. The absorption tower extracts CO2 and H2S from the quenched gas and into the water stream. The desorption column will release the H2S and CO2 gases from the liquid stream. From there, the CO2 off gas containing H2S can be treated either directly by Petmin or by an onsite CO2 plant run by a third party.” Will Petmin build and operate a CO2 treatment plant on their site, or will this plant be run by a third party? If so, who is that third party, and what regulations will apply to them, and how will those regulations be enforced? Why is Petmin not required to build and operate a CO2 treatment plant from the start, especially given the increase in CO2 emissions shown in the new draft permit?
29. The US EPA provided many comments and questions that were part of the first Petmin draft permit. Will they be providing comments and questions regarding this new Petmin draft permit?
30. Will the public receive information on the details regarding whether Petmin or a third party will treat CO2 and H2S emissions before the plant is operational? How and when can we expect to receive this information?
31. “The process includes the generation of byproducts. Taconite fines are stored in bins, later transported off-site. Remet (off-spec DRI) is stockpiled, later reintroduced into the process. Slag created at the EAF will be handled by a separate company.” Where are these “byproducts” mentioned above going to be transported “off-site”, and how will they be either used or dumped? Who will transport them? Who is the separate company handling the slag, and where will it go, and how will it be used or dumped. Are separate permits required for any of these processes?
32. Why is modeling not required for Greenhouse gases?
33. In the BACT analyses the following language frequently appears: “Good combustion practices” and “limited operation”. Who will monitor these practices and operations?
34. “AYER applied the above Draft MERPs methodology to ozone and determined that secondarily formed ozone from this project will be insignificant.” What does insignificant mean? Can you be more specific?
35. “Table 2: NAAQS Modeling Results” shows a daily amount of PM10, but no yearly amount. Why is that, and what is the yearly amount? In addition, several of the tables combine PM10 and PM 2.5 amounts. Why is that, and does it mean that the amounts you are showing are accurate?
36. “CO: 546.22 TPY NOx: 484.57 TPY PM10: 63.97 TPY PM2.5: 52.40 TPY SO2: 3.63 TPY”. These amounts are shown again after the tables, and it says that they come from Table 4, but that does not appear to the case. Why this discrepancy? And why are VOC’s and GHGs/CO2e’s not included on this page? Also, are these amounts before or after the recommended pollution controls are put in place and fully operational?
37. Why are no air toxics analyses required for this project?
38. How will overall air quality be monitored if this project moves forward in order to make sure that this facility stays in compliance of EPA air quality standards?
39. “No adverse impact upon soils or vegetation is expected.” Is this a statement that the Ohio EPA researched? If AYER, the engineering company that Petmin paid to produce these studies, supplied this statement, then what proof do the citizens of Ashtabula County have to back this statement up?
40. “The permittee shall report actual emissions pursuant to OAC Chapter 3745-78 for the purpose of collecting Air Pollution Control Fees.” How will Petmin properly collect and report emissions to the EPA and how often are they required to do so? Will these reports be made available to the public, and if so, how and where? If Petmin violates these emission requirements, can the Ohio EPA shut the plant down?
41. Is the project being conducted on any federally owned land or does it require any kind of federal permit? If so, is there going to be a NEPA review prior to issuing any kind of permit to build?
42. Has a cumulative impact analysis been done as it relates to all the chemicals that will be discharged at the project site?
43. Has there been a sensitive receptor impact analysis done as it relates to cancer and non-cancerous impacts from chemicals that will be discharged at the project site?
44. Is the City guaranteeing that no lead will be discharged into the air or water from the
45. What specific measures are being undertaken to insure that no lead will be discharged
into the air or water from the site?
46. Has a leadspead model been conducted to ensure that any lead created by the project
will not cause any significant impact to individuals or the environment—including children and adults?
47. Has there been an air pollutant modeling specifically relating to pollutants created and/or discharged in any manner from the project?
48. Has the permit applicant modeled for lead, chlorinated solvents and other chemicals that are traditionally known to contaminate (and have contaminated) local water sources and caused unsafe air emissions?
49. We have recently become aware of a national network of air monitoring stations called Purple Air. Purple Air runs off sensors that upload data wirelessly to a database and mapping tool which shows air quality readings of each sensor in real-time. I understand that the sensors can detect particulate matter among other parameters. Would Petmin or the EPA be amenable to purchasing and installing several of these sensors in appropriate areas around Ashtabula to provide residents with information that can help them reduce their risk of exposure to damaging air pollution?
50. Under similar environmental laws, such as the Clean Water Act, individuals and companies that propose environmental degradation as a part of completing a project are sometimes required to mitigate for that damage, either by replacing in-kind the type of habitat lost, or paying into a fund or mitigation bank that conducts environmental conservation. Is there any similar “no net loss” policy under the Clean Air Act? Many Ashtabula residents that I’ve spoken to would have much less fear and anxiety about this project if Petmin was somehow required to improve air quality within the area in order to offset the over 390,000 tons of pollution they will be emitting every year.
51. We are in the midst of a mass extinction of life on earth caused by human activity. Estimates in some locations are that over half the wildlife has been lost within this industrial age. We have also seen unprecedented contamination of water and air resources that are essential for human and environmental health. Are EPA environmental regulations on air pollution doing enough right now to slow down the mass extinction and environmental degradation?
52. Will Petmin’s air pollution negatively affect Lake Erie fisheries such as perch and walleye?
53. How much of Petmin’s product will be consumed within Ohio vs exported to other states? How much product will be consumed within the United States vs abroad? Is pollution from shipping considered an emissions unit under this permit?
54. Many of the Best Available Control Technologies (BACTs) are listed as using natural gas for fuel. What would be the alternative? Coal, propane, or oil? What are some other options for BACTs in terms of combustion and scrubbing that would reduce emissions of the most damaging pollutants such as particulate matter, NOx, SO2, VOCs, and CO?
55. We’ve estimated that NOx emissions from this facility are comparable to adding 2.5 million cars to Ashtabula City roads every day. This seems like it would be really bad for public health. I realize that Petmin’s emissions will be through a smokestack rather than at ground level, like car exhaust. Still, smog layers are known to hang in a low-lying inversion layer several hundred feet above cities with heavy air pollution. Is air dispersion from Petmin’s smokestack enough to prevent 2.5 million cars worth of exhaust from hanging in an inversion layer above Ashtabula?
56. Could rocket heaters and/or combustion of wood gas be used for any of the required manufacturing processes, and would this be better for the environment while still being practical? For reference, Petmin proposes to use 15,000 mmBTU natural gas daily, which would be equivalent to burning about 820 cords of wood per day at high efficiency. 820 cords of wood is equivalent to about 820 trees with 22-inch diameter at breast height. So if each tree took up 400 square feet (20ftx20ft), this would require cutting down about 8 acres of medium-age forest everyday to feed Petmin. There are about 450,000 acres of land in Ashtabula County, so if three quarters of the county was forested with medium-age trees, the whole county would be deforested in about 42,200 days to feed Petmin. That’s about 115 years, and that’s very conservative, it would probably take less time. So, no, wood heating is not sustainable unless you’re ok with never having a stand of forest older than about 100 years in the county. But is this more sustainable than natural gas? I don’t know, both are incredibly destructive but it seems like the wood could last longer. This is the kind of analysis I would like to see being done by the EPA and shared with the public.
57. What is the most advanced technology available right now in terms of conducting the kind of combustion necessary for this facility while emitting the lowest levels of air pollution? Is Petmin proposing to use the most advanced, low-pollution technology available?
58. If non-attainment status were given by city, would the pig iron plant and its projected pollution move us into a non-attainment status? Additionally if it moved us into non-attaniment status that would give The City of Ashtabula protection against such a polluter. Is that the case?
59. Given that there is only one air monitor in the county, the largest county in the state of Ohio, would it make sense that before the Petmin USA pig iron project begins, the EPA add another monitoring station to Ashtabula?
60. On the EJ screen (EPA environmental justice tool – https://ejscreen.epa.gov/mapper/) it shows that Ashtabula is over the 50th percentile of PM2.5 and over 75th percentile in ozone, lead paint indicator, superfund proximity, hazardous waste proximity and wastewater discharge indicators. Per Center for Environmental Health and Justice Ashtabula would be considered a “Sacrifice Zone” as it bears considerable toxic pollution currently. How will the projected Petmin USA air permit numbers affect the above numbers? Can Petmin USA and EPA demonstrate that the projected pollution in the new air permit will not affect Ashtabula’s attainment zone status (attainment vs. nonattainment)? See screen shot of the EJ mapper tool below:
- NOx (nitrogen oxide) is a known air pollutant that is regulated because it has severe health implications as it travels deep into the lungs. Per the Petmin USA new air permit, it states that NOx will be, at max, 484.57 tons per year. Please help the community understand your modeling and processes to state that Petmin will not exceed the 12 micrograms/hr guidelines.
- Given that there is only one air monitoring station in Ashtbula County, in Conneaut which is 15 miles away, and the EPA has current limitations in monitoring due to COVID-19, the community is interested in purchasing their own air monitoring equipment. There are some home monitoring systems that we are considering and it links real-time data nationwide. Does EPA have recommendations for sources of air monitoring equipment?
- Residents are concerned about the large size of the Petmin plant and it’s effect on the view from the historic bridge street. Will you specifiy are the dimensions of the footprint of the projected Petmin pig iron plant? How many feet is the projected smoke stack?
4. Comment: Given the large scale of this project, the current amount of pollution and the potential impact this project will have on the quality of life, tourism and health of our air and water, we would like to recommend the new air permit not be granted until a comprehensive environmental and economic impact study be completed.