Thursday, September 14, 2017

Local Group Frustrated Over US Nitrogen Concerns

By Walter F. Roche Jr.

An eastern Tennessee activist group says it didn't attend a hearing on environmental concerns over US Nitrogen LLC's  operations because no one told them it had been scheduled.
In addition Trudy Wallack of Indivisible Greene County said the action being taken as a result of the Sept. 6 meeting of the Health and Safety Committee of the Greene County Commission will just bounce the issue back to officials who weren't doing their jobs in the first place.
"The reason IGC got involved in the first place is because those agencies were no-shows when it comes to regulating industries like US Nitrogen," Wallack said, adding that though there have been two known leaks of noxious fumes from the Midway plant in eight months little has happened.
Wallack said that despite the fact that her organization had asked for action, IGC was not informed that a meeting had been scheduled.
Adding to the confusion, she said, was the fact that the Health and Safety Committee has an alternative name in official county documents.
At the Sept. 6 meeting, the Health and Safety Committee agreed to call upon state legislators and state environmental officials to more closely monitor US Nitrogen and other area businesses.
Wallack said that proposal was akin to having the fox guard the hen house. She said the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation relies on data supplied by US Nitrogen that is not independently gathered.
"When the regulators rely on the regulated to do the regulating, it's the public who pays the price," she said.
She said comments made at the Sept. 6 meeting indicate some members are refusing to acknowledge there have been issues at US Nitrogen, including the release of an orange cloud of nitrogen gas that hung over the Midway facility and was visible miles away.
"We at IGC are skeptical that having state legislators lobby state agencies to do a job they are either reluctant or ill-equipped to do will accomplish anything," she concluded.

US Nitrogen Drew 19.5 million Gallons From River

By Walter F. Roche Jr.

US Nitrogen withdrew some 19.5 million gallons of water from the Nolichucky River  during the month of August, according to a report filed with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.
The one-page report states that US Nitrogen pumped water from the river on 29 days. On two days, Aug. 1 and Aug. 4, the Greene County firm drew more than 900,000 gallons from the Nolichucky.
The only day when water wasn't drawn from the river was Aug. 25, according to the report filed by Andrew Velo, US Nitrogen's plant manager.
The report shows that the company discharged a total of  6.26 million gallons back into the river. On eight days during the month, the company discharged more than 400,000 gallons into the waterway.
US Nitrogen is required under one of its TDEC permits to file monthly reports on the volume drawn from or discharged into the river.
The August total of water drawn from the Nolichucky is up substantially from July when the company reported pumping 14 million gallons from the river. In June, however, the total withdrawn was over 19 million.
The amount discharged into the river for both July and August was over 600,000 gallons.

Friday, September 1, 2017

TDEC Dismisses US Nitrogen Complaints

By Walter F. Roche Jr.

Tennessee environmental officials have effectively dismissed two recent complaints about excessive emissions from a chemical manufacturer, concluding that the company did not violate its permits.
In letters to two local residents, Amanda Davis, a manager in the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, wrote that agency officials made an unannounced visit to US Nitrogen's Greene County facility and found no evidence of excess emissions.
The visit was on Aug. 16.
In the letters to area resident Sherry Arnold and Park Overall the TDEC official said "no visible emissions were observed" during the visit to the Midway plant.
"Additionally on site records did not indicate any excess emissions," the letters state.
Both letters from Davis were dated Aug. 31.
The two area residents had complained that orange clouds were emitted from the site where ammonium nitrate is produced for later use in explosives.
The letters also charged that the excess emissions were causing breathing problems.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

TDEC Probing US Nitrogen Complaints

By Walter F. Roche Jr.

Tennessee environmental officials say they are investigating three recent complaints from local residents about emissions from US Nitrogen's Greene County manufacturing facility.
Eric Ward, spokesman for the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation said the agency was investigating reports of orange clouds being emitted from the ammonium nitrate plant.
In one complaint a resident reported that orange smoke was billowing from the plant from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m.
Citing a recent town meeting, the complainant said residents have experienced breathing problems as a result of the emissions.
"These complaints are severe," the resident wrote, adding "We remain extremely concerned by TDEC's  lack of concern for the health and safety of the people of the Midway area."
The name of the complainant was not provided.
A second resident complained of "pink/orange smoke" and reported residents were experiencing breathing problems and sore throats.
The third complaint from a resident living less than a mile from US Nitrogen said the emissions had become routine, especially at night when it is difficult to take photos.
Another resident living a quarter mile from the plant also has experienced a sore throat and difficulty breathing.
In a related action US Nitrogen filed a report with TDEC on data collected during attempted startups of the nitric acid plant, which is part of the operation. TDEC has previously cited US Nitrogen for running the nitric acid operation when anti-pollution equipment was not in full operation.
US Nitrogen did not respond to requests for comment.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

US Nitrogen Says Nolichucky Unimpaired

By Walter F. Roche Jr.

A consultant for US Nitrogen has filed a report with Tennessee regulators contending that a key Greene County section of the Nolichucky River is not an impaired stream.
The study conclusion is regarded as crucial because US Nitrogen draws millions of gallons of water per week from the river, discharging some but not all of that volume at a nearby point along the river.
The study was submitted this week by Dinkins Biological of Powell TN in behalf of US Nitrogen's environmental consultant Ensafe.
The report was required under US Nitrogen's permit from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.
Opponents of the US Nitrogen project have repeatedly argued that the withdrawal and discharge of large volumes of water from the Nolichucky will have an adverse environmental effect on the waterway.
The filing of the report comes as local opposition to US Nitrogen's Midway operations has mounted including an attempt by one county commissioner to reverse the rezoning that enabled the chemical manufacturer to locate at its present site.
However, the motion to reverse the rezoning was dropped Monday and county officials indicated they would push for action by the state to either force US Nitrogen to leave or take steps to limit local impact. Thus far, though two fines were imposed recently, state officials have approved the vast majority of US Nitrogen's requests.
According to the Dinkins report, the data was gathered from two study sites on the Nolichucky, one upstream from the intake and discharge locations, and the other downstream.
Citing TDEC standards for a bio-assessment survey, the 17-page report concludes that the standard method of assessment should not be used because the US Nitrogen discharge "releases into a pool habitat" and "this study was conducted in habitat for which there is no applicable TMI (Tennessee Macroinvertebrate Index) standard.."
"All three reaches examined in this study, even the eco-region reference site, scored less than the TMI," the report states.
Consequently, the report continues, the two Nolichucky sites should only be compared to the Powell River site.
The study states that the two Nolichucky sites were within 92 percent and 71 percent of the Powell River data respectively.
"Based on this criteria, the two reaches in the Nolichucky and the reach in the Powell are not impaired," the study concludes.
Local concern about US Nitrogen has increased in the wake of two accidental releases of toxic fumes, one producing a large orange cloud that hung over the Midway facility. A more recent release triggered concerns about the lack of an emergency warning system in the county or the immediate area of the ammonium nitrate manufacturing company.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

US Nitrogen Draws 14 Million Gallons from River

By Walter F. Roche Jr.

US Nitrogen drew a little over 14 million gallons of water from the Nolichucky River in the month of July, according to a report filed with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.
The monthly report, required under the Greene County chemical company's permits, shows that during the same time period the company discharged 6.1 million to the river.
The report shows that on four days in July no water was pumped from the river to the Midway manufacturing facility. The most drawn, about 900,000 gallons in a day, came on July 16 and July 23.
The company reported it discharged no water to the river on 17 separate days.
In June the company reported drawing nearly 19 million gallons from the river while discharging 8.7 million gallons.
The filing comes just after US Nitrogen, which produces ammonium nitrate for use in explosives, was cited for three permit violations including the failure to submit required testing on its nitric acid facility.
US Nitrogen was also the subject of a two hour public hearing Monday in Greeneville at which local residents expressed concern about safety after an emergency emissions incident at the Midway plant.

Monday, August 14, 2017

US Nitrogen Cited For 3 Permit Violations

By Walter F. Roche Jr.

Tennessee environmental regulators have charged a Midway chemical manufacturer with three violations of its permit to operate an ammonia plant.
In a two-page order issued Aug. 7, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation ruled that on three dates last year US Nitrogen exceeded a limit on the number of burners it can operate before anti-pollution equipment is fully operational.
According to the citation US Nitrogen's own records show that more than 15 burners were in operation on three times late last year when a Selective Catalytic Reduction unit was not fully operational.
The citation from TDEC Manager Amanda Davis notes that US Nitrogen disclosed the apparent violations in a May 2 letter to the agency.
The citation states that subsequently two TDEC inspectors visited US Nitrogen's Greene County  facility and determined that the violations did occur.
The citation states that the violations occurred on Oct. 21, Oct. 23 and Dec. 2 and the number of burners operating on those dates ranged from 16 to 24.
The notice gives US Nitrogen 20 days to submit any information showing that the violations did not occur.
The notice does not indicate that any financial penalty is being imposed for the violations.
TDEC spokesman Eric Ward said that under agency procedures once the 20 day response period has passed department officials will review the case and determine whether to take enforcement action. That could include a financial penalty but not necessarily, he wrote in an email.
US Nitrogen officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
TDEC previously issued two permit violation notices to US Nitrogen for other permit violations, including failure to meet a testing deadline on its nitric acid plant. It imposed fines totaling $19,000.
A subsidiary of Ohio based Austin Powder, US Nitrogen provides ammonium nitrate for its parent to manufacture explosives.