By Walter F. Roche Jr.
State officials say that they monitored the restart Tuesday of U.S. Nitrogen's nitric acid manufacturing facility in Midway, Tenn. and while they know there were emissions into the atmosphere they don't yet know whether federal air pollution rules were violated in the process.
Eric Ward, spokesman for the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, said in an email response to questions that, nonetheless, the agency does not believe the restart of earlier startup attempts resulted in any harm to human health or the environment.
"TDEC staff was on site and actively monitored startup efforts at US Nitrogen's nitric acid plant yesterday and are aware that the process resulted in emissions.
"However," Ward continued it is too early to speculate whether any emissions emanating from the plant yesterday exceeded regulations."
US Nitrogen, meanwhile, issued a statement to a local broadcaster claiming that it had identified the problem that caused the Aug. 23 incident and corrected it. The company statement also said the plant would be fully operational in the next few weeks.
The Tuesday restart effort follows an Aug. 23 incident in which the initial startup efforts produced an orange cloud of nitrous oxide and nitrous dioxide that hung over the 500 acre US Nitrogen site.
Ward said TDEC had asked to be notified in advance of the startup and staff was on hand Tuesday and "actively monitored" the efforts.
"At this time," Ward added, "TDEC does not have any evidence that the releases during the startups resulted in any harm to human health and the environment."
Ward said that under its existing permit, US Nitrogen can begin startup operations without further approval.
US Nitrogen plant manager Andrew Velo told TDEC officials that there were two incidents on Aug. 23 in which nitric oxide and nitric dioxide were released into the environment. In a conversation with state officials shortly after the incidents he estimated that a total of 2,900 pounds of the two toxic chemicals were released into the atmosphere.
Ward said that the state was continuing its investigation.
The Aug. 23 incidents were preceded by a disclosure by US Nitrogen that it may have violated anti-pollution requirements by attempting a startup of an ammonium nitrate operation without a scrubber being in place.