South Corvallis residents worried about living in the shadow of the Hollingsworth & Vose glass fiber plant got responses to some of their concerns from company representatives and state environmental regulators at a public meeting Monday night, but some questions remained unanswered.
More than three dozen people turned out for the two-hour meeting in the community room at First Alternative Co-op’s southside store, located next door to the Hollingsworth & Vose plant at 1115 S.E. Crystal Lake Drive. Formerly owned by Evanite Fiber Corp., the facility employs about 140 people and manufactures glass filaments for use in a variety of products, including start-stop automotive batteries and filters for everything from vacuum cleaners to respirators.
Last month the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality revealed that it had allowed first Evanite and later H&V to operate under the wrong class of air pollution permit for nearly 20 years and that the plant had been emitting much higher levels of carbon monoxide and fluorides than its permit allowed. The permit was issued based on faulty air emissions modeling data provided by Evanite, and the problem went undetected until late 2014 because the permit did not require any testing for those pollutants. Testing was performed at that time because H&V was seeking a renewal of the permit.
On Dec. 18, DEQ announced it had reached a settlement in the case that would require H&V to pay $240,000 in penalties and fees but would also allow the company to continue operating its south Corvallis plant while it applied for higher-level permits that would involve some level of regular emissions testing.
Monday’s meeting was convened by state Rep. Dan Rayfield, D-Corvallis, along with Ward 2 City Councilor Roen Hogg, whose district includes the H&V plant, and Ward 3 City Councilor Zach Baker, who represents the residential neighborhoods that border the glass factory. Baker also works in Rayfield’s legislative office.
Also present to provide information and answer questions were Cindy Frost, H&V’s Corvallis site manager; Chad Darby, an environmental consultant hired by the company; and Gary Andes, the DEQ air emissions permit writer for the plant.
Frost said the permitting violation “was a surprise to us” and vowed that Hollingsworth & Vose would work diligently to obtain the proper permits and address the concerns of area residents.
Andes explained that the settlement agreement requires H&V to apply for two air emissions permits, called a PSD permit and a Title V permit. The PSD application is due this Friday and will include specific emissions levels requested by H&V for carbon monoxide, fluorides and other regulated substances, along with the air quality modeling data used to justify those requests. By June 1, the company must conduct emissions verification testing at the plant.
Six months after a PSD permit is issued, the company will need to submit an application for a Title V permit. Andes said the public would have opportunities to comment during both permitting processes.
Questions from the audience focused mainly on two things: Whether the emissions coming out of the plant posed a potential health threat, and what DEQ is doing to protect the public.
Darby said his firm, Golder Associates, has done extensive computer modeling in preparing H&V’s PSD application that demonstrates emissions will fall within federal air quality limits, even on still days when the plume from the glass plant drifts directly down on neighboring homes.
“We have to demonstrate that even when there’s no wind, there’s no hazard,” he said.
Andes and Frost said the new permits would require regular emissions testing but added they couldn’t say exactly how frequent those tests would be until the permitting process had run its course.
When asked about the composition of the particulate matter coming out of the plant now, Andes said he didn’t know but expected to have better information after the permit application was filed.
“We don’t have good data now, but I think we’re going to get it,” he said.
Many of the questions focused on emissions monitoring, which DEQ does not do directly. Instead, the agency allows factory owners to hire contractors to conduct the tests and then analyzes the results to make sure they meet applicable standards. The agency also does some spot-checking to make sure the tests are performed correctly.
“We rely on the sources to employ consultants that specialize in source testing," Andes said. "We don’t have the manpower or the equipment to do that.”
Darby said the process is trustworthy because DEQ has a thorough reviewer and test samples are checked by an independent lab.
“It’s not a case of the fox watching the henhouse,” he insisted.
Trust was another issue raised by the audience. Frost acknowledged that H&V and its predecessor companies had had some pollution issues in the past but said it has worked to correct them, citing the company’s efforts to clean up an old solvent spill, remove accumulated glass fiber near the Willamette River and meet with concerned neighbors.
“I’m not saying we are perfect. We still have a road to travel,” Frost said. “But what we have is a commitment to travel that road.”