Saturday, June 25, 2022

Expert Disputes TDEC Plume Findings

By Walter F. Roche Jr.

An outside expert says state officials were were more than likely wrong when they concluded that orange plumes emanating from a Greene County chemical plant in February were harmless clusters of water vapor.
In a letter sent to the state Department of Environment and Conservationm Howard Gephart, the expert, said it was far more likely the plumes were caused by excess nitrogen escaping from the US Nitrogen LLC facility in Midway.
Gephart of Air Resource Specialists wrote that the TDEC conclusions were "unconvincing" and "not consistent with the available evidence and historical knowledge about orange colored plumes."
Gephart, who has served as an expert for Park Overall, an opponent of US Nitrogen's operations, said water vapor would produce plumes with "an array of colors" not a single color.
Instead, he continued, orange plumes were historically associated with nitric acid emissions.
Noting that nitric acid is a known product of US Nitrogen's, Gephart wrote that TDEC officials appear to have failed to recognize the likliehood of nitrogen being the cause of the orange plumes.
"I find that it is much more likely that the orange colored plumes observed at the USN facility on Feb.15 was associated with nitric acid and were not caused by llight refracting through water vapor as stated by USN," Gephart concluded.
The orange plumes were observed by Overall on Feb. 15. She and Brock Wampler, another area resident, filed complaints with TDEC, but the agency almost immediately began to downplay the incident.

Monday, May 16, 2022

Key River Test Results Sent to TDEC

By Walter F. Roche Jr.

Long awaited bioassessment test results to measure the impact of an industrial operation on the Nolichucky River have been submitted by US Nitrogen LLC to the state Department of Enviroment and Conservation.
The 41-page report, which was actually due months ago, concludes that at least by some measures, the impact on the Nollichucky River from the use of its water by US Nitrogen has been negligbile.
The test was required because, in an unusual arrangement, US Nitrogen is allowed to use thousands of gallons per day of river water at no cost for use in the production of ammonium nitrate, the company''s primary product.
It was Park Overall, a local environmental activist, who reminded state officials the tests were long overdue. She was not available for comment Monday. The preface to the report discloses that some adjustments had to be made to the standard test format due to the actual features of the Nolichucky. The report states that similar adjustments were made in a 2016 test.
"There is no riffle habitat immediately downstream of the (U.S, Nitrogen's) discharge.
US Nitrogen takes water from the Nolichucky, uses most of that water in its production, then discharges the excess back in to the river.
The new tests were conducted on Sept. 13, 2021. TDEC officials were on hand to observe certain elements of the testing and parallel tests were performed on Sept. 15 on the Powell River in Cocke County for comparison purpose.
The test showed water was flowing in the Nolichucky during testing at the rate of 1,080 gallons per minute. Samples collected were hand delivered to Pennington and Associates for testing.
"Samples from the Nolichucky similar to Powell downstream had a slightly lower level of dissolved oxygen (and) a slightly higher level of conductivity," the report states. Mace invertebrates, it continues, were at a higher level than those in the Nolichucky.
The report states that the Nolichucky River may be impacted by upstream factors before it reaches the US Nitrogen discharge point. A review of metric scores showed the Powell River had a 26 score, while the Nolichucky showed a score of 14 upstream of the intake point compared to 16 at the discharge point. Both the intake and discharge points are near the the 21-mile point on the river.
The report concludes that US Nitrogen's effluent may not be causing an impact to the bethe macroinvertebrate community in the river.
The report also notes that while photos were taken of the testing point on the Powell River, photos of the Nolichucky were not available due to technical issues.
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Tuesday, May 10, 2022

TDEC Partially OKs USN Confidentiality Request

By Walter F. Roche Jr.

Even as a challenge was being submitted, Tennessee environmental officials have agreed to keep secret certain data on air emissions submitted by a Greene County chemical manufacturing firm seeking an easement in it current emissions limits.
The request submitted by US Nitrogen LLC was "granted in part and denied in part" by Michelle Owenby, head of air pollution control programs at the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.
US Nitrogen submitted the data to back up its request for an easement on emissions allowed during the startup of its nitric acid plant in Midway.
Even as the approval was being made public, David Bullock a Brentwood attorney, was filing a "strong objection" to the confidentiality request in behalf of Park Overall, a long time opponent of the Midway manufacturing operation.
In his letter Bullock charged that US Nitrogen has provided no support for its confidentiality claim and none of the information on emissions could be classified as a business secret.
In addition Bullock cited a state law that states the composition of any contaminants "shall not be considered secret, unless so declared by the department." Bullock also noted that some of the disputed data has already been disclosed previously in a filing with the National Response Center.
Owenby, in her written decision, agreed with that argument and cited the same state law, barring emission records from being kept confidential.c In her decision Owenby said that two of US Nitrogen's requests met the requirements for confidentiality, while the third did not.
The US Nitrogen confidentially request covered two documents containing data on actual and projected emissions and the company's standard operating procedures.

Monday, May 9, 2022

TDEC: Orange Plumes at USN Were Water Vapor

By Walter F. Roche Jr..
Tennessee environmental officials have concluded that orange plumes observed by area residents near the US Nitrogen LLC plant in February were most likely water vapors illuminated by the rising sun.
In a three-page letter to Brock Wampler, one of the complainants, Ron Wilhoit from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, wrote that a review of the Greene County company records, including 2.5 hours of video tape, showed that the company remained within its various permit limits on the morning of Feb. 15..
Wampler and other area residents, including Park Overall, had registered complaints with TDEC after observing the orange plumes around 7:30 a.m. on Feb 15.
Overall also provided photos of the plumes. The pictures, which at one point appeared to have disappeared, were attached to the Aug. 6 Wampler letter. "There were no exceedances or upset conditions with other processes at the facility," Wilhoit wrote, noting that water vapors do not apply to opacity limits.
But, he continued, the records showed that there were sufficient nitrous oxides present at the time to produce orange emissions.
From a review of the tapes from 6:30 a.m. to 8 a.m. on Feb. 15, Wilhoit reported that cooling towers at the complex "began to appear orange at around 7:27 a.m. lasting till around 7:43 a.m. coinciding with the sunrise behind it.".
"Based on the video and knowledge of processes at the facility visible plumes observed during this period appeared to be condensed water vapor," Wilhoit concluded.
Wilhoit's letter and TDEC records indicate that the complaints had been adjudged invalid while the investigation was still going on.

Sunday, May 8, 2022

US Nitrogen Complaint "Up in Smoke"

By Walter F. Roche Jr.

On Feb. 15 of this year Park Overall, a Tennessee resident and environmental activist, filed a complaint along with photos on an orange smoke cloud she witnessed emanating from a chemical manufacturing plant near her Afton home.
Without mentioning the source The state Department of Environment and Conservation subsequently reported such a complaint had been filed on Feb. 15. "No Violation found," TDEC records show in the result column for the complaint.
Now, weeks later, apparently TDEC is not so sure.
Emails just released last week and posted on the TDEC web site show there is an ongoing inquiry on the events of Feb 15 at the US Nitrogen LLC plant in Midway.
Emails between TDEC officials and US Nitrogen show several requests for additional data on conditions at the ammonium nitrate plant in and around Feb 15. "Please find the requested data regarding the Feb. 15, 2022 complaint," a US Nitrogen wrote in a recent email to TDEC.
"It most definitely is the one I made," Overallsaid after learning of the TDEC complaint record.
TDEC data requests to US Nitrogen include everything from weather conditions at the plant on Feb 15 to company operational data on emissions from the facility during the time period.
"As discussed, US Nitrogen did not undergo any startup activities or malfunctions on Feb. 15, 2022. Also I have attached the cooling tower story board," Kim Ryans of US Nitrogen wrote in an email to TDEC.
Overall said that the mishandling of her complaint included the apparent disappearance of two of the three photos she submitted to back up her claims of excess visible emissions.
Stating that she had been told that computer files can sometimes be corrupted, Overall said,"Oddly, that's not at all what I think happened!"

Friday, May 6, 2022

US Nitrogen's Visible Emissions Probed

By Walter F.. Roche Jr.

Tennessee environmental officials have been quietly investigating a complaint of excess visible emissions in mid-February at a manufacturing facility in Greene County.
A series of emails only released this week though dated back to February show the inquiry concerns a complaint of excess visible emissions on Feb. 15 at the US Nitrogen LLC facility in Midway Greene County. Several of those emails were labeled "complaint follow-up."
In the email string posted this week, US Nitrogen officials have responded to data requests on such issues as the weather conditions and equipment temperature readings for the month of February.
Officials of the state Department of Environment and Conservation, including Ronnie Wilhoit, have sent the information requests to Kim Ryans, a US Nitrogen compliance official.
A TDEC data site lists an opacity complaint registered on Feb. 15, 2022 with the notation, "No Violation Found." In an April 14 email to Wilhoit, Ryans wrote, "As discussed, US Nitrogen did not undergo any startup activities or malfunctions on Feb. 15, 2022. "Also I have attached the cooling tower story board," the email concludes.
Other data submitted by US Nitrogen in response to TDEC's requests include ammonia injection rates recorded in January for the nitric acid plant and information on the "non-contact cooling process."
"Please find the requested data regarding the Feb. 15, 2022 complaint," Ryans wrote in one email to Wilhoit.
Several complaints about excess visible emissions at the Midway complex have been filed by local environmental activist Park Overall, but each of those were labeled as "unfounded" by TDEC.

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

US Nitrogen's River Use Up Slightly

By Walter F. Roche Jr.

US Nitrogen LLC's use of free water from the Nolichucky River inched up slightly in April, hitting 20.188 million gallons, according to a report filed today with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.
The Greene County firm drew more than a million gallons on two days, April 1 and April 9, the company reported. The largest single day total was 1.664 million on April 1.
On three days, including April 3 and April 4, only a minimal amount was withdrawn for use in the company's production of ammonium nitrate and related products.
In the same one-page report the company discharged 6.8 million gallons of waste water back into the Nolichucky. More than 500,000 gallons was discharged on only one day, April 14. Minimal amounts were discharged on eight days during April.
The April totals compare to a little over 19 million gallons withdrawn from the Nolichucky in March and 9.6 million discharged back into the river in that same month.
US Nitrogen won approval from two state agencies for the use and discharge of Nolichucky River water. The permits require monthly reports.