Toxic releases decline in Bartow

From 2006 to 2016, the number of toxic releases and disposals from Plant Bowen decreased from around 22 million pounds per year to about 1.6 million.
Recently published Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) data indicates toxic releases in Bartow County are at their lowest levels since 2012.

The EPA’s latest Toxic Releases Inventory (TRI) reports 22 county facilities produced nearly 1.9 million pounds of on-site and off-site disposals and other releases “that may pose a threat to human health and the environment” in 2016.

Those figures represent considerable decreases from the EPA’s stats from 2015 (2.26 million pounds) and 2014 (2.59 million pounds).

The agency tabbed the sum of last year’s on-site air releases at 1 million pounds, while the number of water and land releases and disposals were reported at 51,700 pounds and 590,600 pounds, respectively.

All of the numbers used by the EPA in the annual inventory are reported by the facilities themselves.

The county’s toxic releases and disposals have sharply declined over the last decade. After producing 22.3 million pounds a dozen years ago, the most recent EPA data indicates toxic releases in Bartow are barely 7 percent of what they were in 2006.

“The big driver would be, in my opinion, all the pollution control measures that Plant Bowen and Georgia Power have implemented,” said County Administrator Peter Olson. “They were our biggest emitter and a reduction that large would be due to their efforts.”

Although production-related waste in Bartow increased by almost 10 million pounds from 2015 to 2016, the amount that is treated as opposed to disposed or released also increased, rising from 35.7 million pounds to 46.1 million pounds.

The amount facilities recycled in 2016, 7.6 million pounds, however, is at its lowest level in Bartow since 2009.

According to the latest EPA figures, the two most common aerial releases in Bartow are sulphuric acid and hydrochloric acid, which represent 87 percent of all airborne releases in the county. Ammonia and copper compounds accounted for almost two-thirds of the county’s 2016 water releases, with nitrate, barium and manganese compounds making up the bulk of the remaining releases.

While Olson said the county has created ordinances requiring the treatment and reduction of pollutants in wastewater, he said there’s not a lot they can do about aerial emissions.

“We, as a county, cannot regulate air emissions because that’s preempted by federal law,” he said. “They work on that at the state and regional level, so we don’t see it as part of our job to get on their back about their emissions — that’s what the federal government does.”

Plant Bowen was responsible for the majority of Bartow’s TRI releases and disposals in 2016 — roughly 1.6 million pounds, including 931,190 pounds of the county’s on-site aerial releases, 40,730 pounds of water releases and virtually all of the county’s land releases and disposals.

That’s a decrease from the plant’s numbers in 2015 (2 million pounds), 2014 (2.4 million pounds) and 2013 (1.7 million pounds), but an increase from 2012 (1 million pounds.)

“Georgia Power’s annual reporting for TRI shows a 31 percent decrease in 2016 from the previous year and a 67 percent decrease in the last five years,” said Georgia Power spokesman John Kraft. “This decrease is attributable to changes in a variety of factors, including amount of fuel burned, fuel composition and operation and installation of environmental controls.”

Plant Bowen’s toxic release and disposal numbers plummeted over the course of a decade. In 2006, the EPA indicated the plant produced 22 million pounds of toxic releases and disposals, a sum 13 times higher than 2016’s final tally.

“Along with other factors, the environmental control equipment at Plant Bowen has helped drive reductions in reported TRI releases by over 90 percent since 2006,” Kraft said.

Among other installations, Plant Bowen has added four scrubbers and various mercury control equipment over the last 12 years.

“We have invested over $5 billion in environmental controls on our power plants to reduce emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, mercury and other air pollutants at our fossil fuel power plants,” Kraft said. “The controls have greatly reduced emission levels for sulfur dioxide by more than 95 percent, nitrogen oxide by more than 90 percent and mercury by more than 95 percent.”

The EPA dataset also indicates Plant Bowen produced 80,436 pounds of off-site releases and disposals, second only to Gerdau Ameristeel, which produced 118,745 pounds of the county’s total 228,900 pounds of off-site releases and disposals.

Chemical Products Corp. (29,101 total pounds), Innovative Chemical Technologies Inc. (19,000 total pounds) and Anheuser-Busch (13,597 total pounds) round out the EPA’s list of Bartow facilities producing the most toxic releases and disposals.

Bartow’s total TRI numbers are significantly higher than neighboring counties Cobb (481,281 pounds), Cherokee (52,762 pounds) and Gordon (27,259 pounds), yet substantially lower than Floyd County (3.23 million pounds.)

The 30120 zip code, with 10 TRI-designated facilities, produced 1.6 million pounds of the county’s toxic releases and disposals. The 30121 zip code, with six TRI-designated facilities, produced about 45,000 pounds. The 30102, 30103, 30171, 30137 and 30184 zip codes had one TRI facility each, combining for about 650 pounds of toxic releases and disposals.

“There is sulfur dioxide, very small amounts, still getting emitted [but] I think people tend to maybe overreact to the notion of what the impact of some of the facilities can be,” Olson said. “They’ve all worked for many years to reduce emissions and I’m not aware of any particular cluster of health problems or anything else we have in this county that would indicate that we have a particular problem from the presence of Plant Bowen and [other TRI facilities] — we’re very comfortable with them as a corporate neighbor.”

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