Pollution worries hover around plant.Byline: Diane Dietz The Register-Guard
SPRINGFIELD - A big chemical spill chemical spill Public health An inadvertent release of a liquid chemical regarded as hazardous to human health which in a workplace is identified with hazardous materials labels. See Material Safety Data Sheets. two years ago, the partial collapse of a chemical tank this year, a lawsuit by a whistle-blower whis·tle·blow·er or whis·tle-blow·er or whistle blower
One who reveals wrongdoing within an organization to the public or to those in positions of authority: "The Pentagon's most famous whistleblower is . . and a mysterious letter are all making Springfield acutely aware of an old chemical plant along the Willamette River Willamette River
River, northwestern Oregon, U.S. It flows north for 300 mi (485 km) into the Columbia River near Portland. Oregon's most populous cities are in its valley. The Fremont Bridge, a steel arch with a main span of 1,225 ft (373 m), crosses the river at Portland. on the city's southwest flank.
The events raise questions about pollution controls at industrial giant Borden Chemical's 50-tank chemical brewing operation.
The tanks hold more than a million pounds of toxic chemicals at any time, including phenol phenol (fē`nōl), C6H5OH, a colorless, crystalline solid that melts at about 41°C;, boils at 182°C;, and is soluble in ethanol and ether and somewhat soluble in water. , methanol and formaldehyde formaldehyde (fôrmăl`dəhīd'), HCHO, the simplest aldehyde. It melts at −92°C;, boils at −21°C;, and is soluble in water, alcohol, and ether; at STP, it is a flammable, poisonous, colorless gas with a suffocating . The latter was reclassified recently from a "probable" to a "known" human carcinogen carcinogen: see cancer.
Agent that can cause cancer. Exposure to one or more carcinogens, including certain chemicals, radiation, and certain viruses, can initiate cancer under conditions not completely understood. , linked to nose and throat cancer.
Government agencies say that, with the exception of a few upsets, Borden is obeying environmental laws. However, the bar is low because the 56-year-old plant is too small and too old to face the stiffest environmental rules.
Under federal law, the plant is allowed to emit up to 25 tons of hazardous pollutants pollutants
see environmental pollution. into the air each year, and as long as managers keep it under that limit there's nothing environmental officials can do to spur the plant to upgrade its pollution controls.
"No industry - especially today - wants to spend any money that they don't have to," said Brian Jennison, executive director of the Lane Regional Air Pollution Authority.
"That's what happened at Borden: It was an older facility and they were running it without putting a lot of money into it, and it caught up with them," Jennison said.
The plant abuts a residential neighborhood, and some people who live on a hillside overlooking the facility say they're spooked. The plant's top official recently visited many residents to try to reassure them, but some say they want more: top-of-the-line pollution controls.
A pervasive chemical
Ohio-based Borden is a dominant player in the nation's wood products industry, and a fixture in Springfield.
The company's 48 plants churn out the lion's share of formaldehyde used in North America North America, third largest continent (1990 est. pop. 365,000,000), c.9,400,000 sq mi (24,346,000 sq km), the northern of the two continents of the Western Hemisphere. to make the glue that holds together plywood and particleboard par·ti·cle·board or particle board
A structural material made of wood fragments, such as chips or shavings, that are mechanically pressed into sheet form and bonded together with resin. .
Chances are "extremely good" that Borden resins are in every Lane County house, said Daniel Kanemori, site leader at the Springfield plant. "At minimum, the plywood (glue) is (ours), if not their countertops and cabinets as well," he said.
Borden provides 86 jobs and an $11.5 million payroll at its factory and research unit on South Second Street. The company has given $50,000 to the city's new sports center.
And Borden Chemical is dedicated to protecting the safety of employees and the community, Kanemori said. "I'm happy with what we're doing today," he said. "I think we're doing a much better job. We've strengthened our systems."
Regulators - from air, water and safety agencies - say that once they call Borden about a problem, the company is prompt and responsive until it's resolved.
But as part of a whistle-blower trial last week, a former Borden employee questioned the company's willingness outside of the public eye to spend money on anti-pollution and safety work.
The case dates to October 2001 when Borden reactor operator A reactor operator (or nuclear reactor operator) is an individual at a nuclear power plant who is responsible for directly controlling a nuclear reactor from a control panel and is the only individual at a nuclear power plant who can directly alter significant amounts of reactor Dusty Ross visited LRAPA LRAPA Lane Regional Air Protection Agency (formerly Lane Regional Air Pollution Authority) with a quarter-inch stack of internal memos and notes. Ross said he was spitting up blood and had low lung function from persistent formaldehyde exposure. He said he was worried about what the fumes fumes
odorous gases and other volatile materials; inhalation of irritating fumes causes coughing and, if sufficiently severe, irreversible pulmonary edema. were doing to neighbors.
Ross contended that plant managers misled air pollution inspectors, failed to report when air-cleaning "scrubbers" broke down and knowingly vented unfiltered Please wikify (format) this article or section as suggested in the Guide to layout and the Manual of Style.
Remove this template after wikifying. This article has been tagged since formaldehyde fumes into the air through a pipe high atop a formaldehyde tank where inspectors couldn't see.
The latter lapse was odd because two air cleaners that scrubbed and burned away pollution fumes were already in operation on that same system.
However, between these two cleaners, a 4-inch-diameter pipe was venting untreated formaldehyde fumes into the air. Another employee later told LRAPA inspectors it had "been that way forever," the agency's records show.
Borden even followed environmental requirements by hiring a firm to periodically go over the system with a hand-held "sniffer" looking for Looking for
In the context of general equities, this describing a buy interest in which a dealer is asked to offer stock, often involving a capital commitment. Antithesis of in touch with. minor leaks - all the while ignoring the 4-inch vent on top.
Ross said that bothered him. "Here we say we're in compliance because we ran this little machine around every single weld and every single bolt in the place," he said, "yet we allow this?"
Even Kanemori - who wasn't in charge of the plant at the time - said the situation was curious. "It does seem a little bit odd, doesn't it?" he said.
The 4-inch pipe was discharging 0.4 tons of formaldehyde a year, the company calculated. That's in addition to the 6.5 tons the plant releases under its Clean Air Act permit. Borden figures it's allowed to emit up to 8.4 tons a year.
Borden fired Ross within a month of his visit to LRAPA. Ross contended he was fired because he made the report. But Borden said it fired him for misusing the Internet, faking instrument readings and driving a forklift over a pair of special hoses.
After a two-day trial in U.S. District Court last week, Judge Michael Hogan Michael Hogan is the name of:
LRAPA, meanwhile, found that Ross' contentions about Borden's environmental lapses were essentially accurate and issued a notice of noncompliance noncompliance
failure of the owner to follow instructions, particularly in administering medication as prescribed; a cause of a less than expected response to treatment.
noncompliance that threatened thousands of dollars in fines.
Six months of negotiation between Borden and LRAPA yielded a September 2002 agreement to remove the tank that was venting into the air and improve environmental systems in other ways. The company agreed to pay $15,000.
But already, another environmental headache was gripping the company.
In August 2002, a 250,000-gallon methanol tank 120 feet from the Willamette River sprung a leak and sprayed chemicals for up to 36 hours before anybody noticed.
The explosive and toxic chemical pooled in an antiquated, clay-lined containment basin, then soaked through, contaminating con·tam·i·nate
tr.v. con·tam·i·nated, con·tam·i·nat·ing, con·tam·i·nates
1. To make impure or unclean by contact or mixture.
2. To expose to or permeate with radioactivity.
adj. soil and leaching into the river.
The company figures it spilled 34,000 gallons of methanol. There's disagreement on how much went into the river.
The company's view: "There was extremely low levels actually hitting the river," Kanemori said.
But Chuck Gottfried, Springfield's water resources program coordinator, disagreed. "We figure a large portion of that worked its way out to the river," he said.
Monitors found traces of methanol at the river's edge up until February 2004.
Before the spill, the company was planning to upgrade the containment basin, Kanemori said. Today's standards would require a cement or double-walled tank.
"We'd actually had discussions about what the best timing would be to upgrade," he said. "Obviously we delayed a day too late." After the spill, the company got out the cement.
The company is now also considering replacing the curb-sized containment around its formaldehyde tanks with a 4-foot wall.
Severe exposure to formaldehyde - a colorless col·or·less
1. Lacking color.
2. Weak in color; pallid.
3. Lacking animation, variety, or distinction; dull. See Synonyms at dull. , flammable flam·ma·ble
Easily ignited and capable of burning rapidly; inflammable.
[From Latin flamm gas - can cause death from throat swelling or from chemical burns to the lungs. Chronic exposure to small amounts can cause cancer of the nasal passages, mouth, lungs and bone marrow.
The new barrier will be built "at the earliest late next year," Kanemori said.
Companywide, Borden expects to spend $5.4 million for environmental upgrades this year, the company said in filings with the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission. In addition, it's liable for cleanup at 55 sites nationally. The company had a profit of $22.9 million on sales of $1.4 billion last year.
Kanemori estimates Borden spent $750,000 in equipment upgrades at the Springfield plant since the whistle-blower-spurred inspections of 2001. The following year's methanol spill cleanup and upgrade cost the company $1.2 million and resulted in a $3,600 civil penalty.
"That is like a flea biting a tyrannosaurus Tyrannosaurus (tīrăn'ōsôr`əs, tĭr–) [Gr.,=tyrant lizard], member of a family, Tyrannosauridae, of bipedal carnivorous saurischian dinosaurs characterized by having strong hind limbs, a muscular tail, and short rex," said Michael Balk balk
the action of a horse when it refuses to obey a command to which it usually responds. See also jibbing. , who owns 330 feet of riverfront riv·er·front
The land or property along a river. property just south of the plant.
And now, a new problem has surfaced. On June 25, an unknown person delivered to homes near Borden a three-page letter signed "A Concerned Borden Chemical Employee."
The letter accused Borden of lying to neighbors who called the plant complaining of symptoms from the fumes, including "coughing up blood, headaches, eye irritations, uncontrolled rashes and shortness of breath Shortness of Breath Definition
Shortness of breath, or dyspnea, is a feeling of difficult or labored breathing that is out of proportion to the patient's level of physical activity. ." The writer contended that employees are instructed to mislead callers, telling them not to worry.
LRAPA fields on average just two calls a year about the plant, complaints of strong odors Odors
Medicine. the absence of the sense of smell; olfactory anesthesia. Also called anosphrasia. — anosmic, adj.
bad breath; an unpleasant odor emanating from the mouth. that catch in the throat. Neighbor John Ebeling, a Eugene auto shop owner, has complained to the company and to LRAPA.
"I know it's an old plant, and I know they'll make mistakes and vent a bunch of bad stuff occasionally. It'll happen; it's almost unavoidable," he said. "But they're not forthcoming about that stuff, and as a neighbor, it's really irritating."
Ross, the whistle-blower, said in an interview that Borden instructed him to give false reassurance: "I'm having to tell these people that we're checking for toxic levels of this and toxic levels of that, when in reality I'm lying to them," he said.
Jennison said some of the anonymous letter's contentions on toxic releases were once true - for instance, the plant had vented through the 4-inch pipe - but are now outdated. "It was almost like that letter was written two years ago but just sent out now," Jennison said.
When Kanemori caught wind of the letter, he says he quizzed employees. "The response from the employees who are here now is outrage that someone would have those allegations that are, in their mind, unfounded," he said. "I can't speak to before I was here, but more recently we've tried to be very diligent about responding to requests" from neighbors.
To reinforce that message, he took to the neighborhood with an employee of The Ulum Group, a Eugene public relations public relations, activities and policies used to create public interest in a person, idea, product, institution, or business establishment. By its nature, public relations is devoted to serving particular interests by presenting them to the public in the most firm, in tow. The two offered to answer questions, and they left cards and letters for neighbors who were out. It took them three evenings.
Neighbor Stacey Fay said she still doesn't feel great about living near a chemical plant, but Kanemori "was pretty reassuring, actually. Everything looked like it checked out."
Ebeling was not impressed.
A plant such as Borden's ought to be in the middle of nowhere, Ebeling said. But since it's next to a neighborhood and a river, it should buy the best safeguards - even though that might be costly, he said.
A modern plant would have fewer leaky leak·y
adj. leak·i·er, leak·i·est
Permitting leaks or leakage: a leaky roof; a leaky defense system.
Adj. 1. seams and joints, less-frequent fume-belching breakdowns and more efficient air pollution scrubbers or burners, regulators say.
An example nearby in Springfield - the formaldehyde-producing Dynea USA factory - has more up-to-date pollution controls, they say.
A modern plant might have sensors to prevent an accident such as occurred at Borden six months ago, when a methanol tank partially collapsed. To keep up production, Borden bypassed its pollution control system for two months, putting 1,548 pounds of excess methanol into the air.
"Everybody would feel happier if they'd just tighten things up and ran a more professional outfit - like move their world view out of the '50s and into the '80s," Ebeling said.
Borden Chemical: 746-8461 (After hours Adv. 1. after hours - not during regular hours; "he often worked after hours" , punch zero and a technician will answer.)
Lane Regional Air Pollution Authority: 736-1056, Ext. 218
Department of Environmental Quality: 686-7838, Ext. 241
John Ebeling, who lives near Borden Chemical (in background), says fumes from the plant bother him, especially when he rides his bike nearby.