Timber products companies may get pollution extension

Three local wood products companies should be given more time to install multi-million dollar pollution control devices despite some local objections, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality recommended recently to the federal government.

Rogue Valley Plywood in White City would have until June 20, 2008 to install the equipment and Sierra Pine and Timber Products, both in Medford, would have until Oct. 1, 2008, the DEQ decided.

Company officials have said they need a one-year extension because the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rules have shifted over the years, and court cases have made it difficult to settle on a particular technology for cleaning up the pollutants.

The companies were required by Oct. 1, 2007 to clean up hazardous byproducts of plywood or particle board production such as methanol, phenol and two carcinogens, formaldehyde and acetaldehyde, according to the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality. Once the new equipment is installed, 168 tons of hazardous pollutants would be removed from the air annually.

Throughout Oregon, eight wood products manufacturers have applied for extensions.

Tom Peterson, DEQ environmental engineer, said he estimates the pollution control devices, which include filters and catalytic oxidizers, would average about $4 to $5 million per installation.

The DEQ recommendation to allow the extensions is currently under review by the EPA. The DEQ recently received 92 written comments from the public, and most opposed to the extensions.

Jacksonville resident Conde Cox, one of the local critics, said, "This is a classic example of the DEQ doing whatever industry wants, whether it is legal or illegal."

He said DEQ sent a letter to the manufacturers to let them know they could have more time if they applied for an extension. He said the letter violates the law that sets up the new standards because it amounts to a blanket industry-wide extension.

He thinks the extension will give industry time to pressure the Bush administration to weaken or get rid of the stricter pollution requirements on industry.

Cox said industry has already shown a willingness to drag its feet because it has known for years what kind of equipment it would need to install.

"If they were an honest corporate citizen, they would be trying to comply with the law," he said.

Timber Products business analyst Erik Vos said there is no lobbying effort by his company to change the law, which he said has been a moving target for years.

He disputed accusations that his company expects the law to somehow change over the next year.

"It's just ridiculous," he said. "We're going to follow the law whatever it is."

He said the problem has been that his company has never been certain what sort of equipment would be required. Now that it is, he said the equipment has been ordered, but it will take about six months before it is delivered.

"The biggest issue is the lead time on that equipment," he said.

Some preliminary work has already begun at the facility along with extensive design work. Once the equipment is installed, he said it will take some time to properly set up.

"This isn't stuff you can just go down and pick up at Wal-Mart," he said. "Each of these systems is uniquely engineered."

Peterson said each of the companies is installing different equipment to deal with the hazardous pollutants.

Sierra Pine will be installing three large bag filters that will collect about 95 percent of the 100 tons of particulate pollutants emitted from press vents, he said. The particulate pollutants must be removed to prevent contamination of the catalytic oxidizers.

"The catalytic oxidizer for Sierra Pine is one of the largest ever produced," said Peterson.

Timber Products is installing a bio-filter that will help clean up the air before it goes into the oxidizer, allowing it to run at lower temperatures, he said. Catalytic oxidizers consume large amounts of natural gas to help combust the hazardous air pollutants.

Rogue Plywood ordered its oxidizer in June, so it expects to have the equipment operating earlier than the other two companies, said Peterson.

Peterson said it's difficult to predict whether people living downwind of the plants will detect any difference in the air. That will depend on each individual's sensitivity to odors.

"For me it will not make any difference, but for some it will," he said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com.

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