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EPA: Local Industries Releasing Fewer Toxic Chemicals from Fuel Burning


Feb. 22, 2008 — The amount of toxins released by V.I. companies that burn fossil fuels is down, according to a report from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
"There's been a steady decrease," EPA spokesman Rich Cahill said Friday, speaking by phone from his New York office.
On Thursday the EPA released its annual Toxic Release Inventory report on chemical releases into the air, water and land by facilities across the territory.
The report, which covers releases in 2006, shows a decrease of approximately 24,000 pounds of sulfuric-acid mist from the Hovensa oil refinery on St. Croix due to the processing of crude oil with lower sulfur content.
However, the report shows an increase in total releases of all Toxic Release Inventory pollutants, from 780,000 pounds in 2005 to 880,000 pounds in 2006, largely attributed to increases in volatile organic compound emissions from sources other than the stacks at the Hovensa refinery. Those are the pipes, valves and pumps at the refinery, Cahill said.
However, Hovensa spokesman Alex Moorhead sent a written statement that Hovensa erroneously overstated emissions of toluene by approximately 32,000 pounds when it sent its report to the EPA. Excluding this error, he wrote, the total increase in the toxic release inventory in 2006 compared to 2005, was approximately 68,000 pounds.
Approximately 20,000 pounds of this increase was attributable to an increase in nitrates in the water discharged by Hovensa's wastewater-treatment plant, Moorhead wrote. The increase resulted from a larger quantity of water being processed in the plant. Despite the increase in nitrates, the company remained in compliance in the quality of water released into the sea.
The rest of the increase is due to emissions of hydrocarbons from sources other than exhaust stacks such as pumps and valves, Moorhead wrote.
"Hovensa continues to explore new technology and seek out substitute chemicals for use in its operating and maintenance process in order to reduce its toxic release inventory," Moorhead wrote.
The Toxic Release Inventory of the refinery has decreased from 1.01 million pounds in 1998, when Hovensa began operating the refinery, to 848,000 pounds in 2006, the date of the most recent EPA report, Moorhead wrote.
The EPA and Hovensa are currently discussing ways to reduce the emission from the pipes, valves and pumps, Cahill said.
"They have not been cited for any kind of violation," he said.
There will always be emission at industries like Hovensa that burn fossil fuels, Cahill said. Hovensa releases the most toxins into the air, with the V.I. Water and Power Authority plant at Krum Bay on St. Thomas a distant second. Hovensa's total releases in 2006 stood at 882,952 pounds. WAPA's number was 35,502 pounds.
Esso's bulk terminal at the Cyril E. King Airport on St. Thomas had 3,422 pounds. WAPA's Richmond, St. Croix, plant had 474 pounds. Chevron Caribbean's facility at Sub Base, St. Thomas, trailed the list with 248 pounds.
EPA Regional Administrator Alan J. Steinberg called the report a valuable tool for communities, local government and business leaders, because it provides valuable information about chemicals being released into the environment.
"It puts a focus on specific facilities so that they can work to make improvements in their operations and in the accuracy of their reporting," Steinberg said in a news release issued Thursday.
The Toxic Release Inventory is the most comprehensive source of information about chemicals released into the environment, according to the release. On a national level, more than 23,000 facilities reported on approximately 650 chemicals for calendar year 2006.
Thanks to improvements in the EPA's system, the vast majority of facilities now report data electronically, and detailed information about specific facilities is more readily accessible to the public, the release indicated.
The inventory tracks the chemicals released by facilities specified by the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act of 1986 and its amendments. The Pollution Prevention Act of 1990 also mandates that the data include information on toxic chemicals treated on site, recycled and burned for energy recovery.
The data and background information is available at epa.gov/tri. Communities can also identify local facilities and chemical releases by using the Toxic Release Inventory explorer mapping tool, available at epa.gov/triexplorer.
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