Canton Repository

August 19, 2004

Environmentalists criticize Ohio’s pollution reporting

Copley Washington correspondent

WASHINGTON — Industrial plants in Ohio, including the Marathon Ashland Refinery in Canton, provide less information on accidental releases of pollutants than those in other states, making it harder to evaluate the harm of the emissions, an environmental group said Wednesday.

The Environmental Integrity Project also charged that Ohio regulators do not enforce a requirement that plants report estimates of how much they release by accident.

The 2-year-old advocacy group criticized the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and state regulators for failing to punish plants for accidental releases, which are called “upsets.”

“The off-the-books pollution caused by unreported and unpenalized upsets is at least as harmful as routine pollution and should not be allowed to evade emission limits designed to protect public health,” said Kelly Haragan, counsel for the group.

Accidental releases typically occur during malfunctions, maintenance of equipment and startups and shutdowns of plants.

“Air-pollution limits are designed to keep the air safe to breathe,” the report observed. But the study said loopholes in federal and state laws give a pass to such accidental emissions, permitting “industrial sources to pollute significantly more than the law allows.”

The group examined records for accidental releases for 57 refineries and chemical plants in five states, including Ohio.

It found the Marathon Ashland Refinery in Canton, for example, reported 12 accidental releases of sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide or other pollutants in 2002, Haragan said. But the company estimated the amount of the pollutant released in just four of the cases, according to the group.

Chris Fox, a Marathon Ashland spokeswoman, said the company was unable to comment on the report Wednesday because it had not had time to review it.

In response to the report, a U.S. EPA statement said it requires all industrial facilities that are major sources of air pollution to develop plans to manage excess emissions.

The agency said facilities are required to report and plan to minimize emissions that are over the limit, whether they result from startup, shutdown or malfunction.

Of the states examined by the report, Ohio and Pennsylvania had the worst record-keeping systems for accidental releases, Haragan said.

Two-thirds of the reports from plants in Ohio did not provide an estimate of the quantity of pollutants that were accidentally released, she said.

The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency welcomed the group’s recommendation that the agency improve its record keeping to make the information more available to the public.

“We’re definitely going to take a look at that and see what we can do to improve that,” Ohio EPA spokeswoman Dina Pierce said. “We want to make sure the public has the information.”

Texas has the best monitoring system, the group said. In Texas, accidental releases must be reported to the state within 24 hours. They are posted on a Web site available to the public within days, the group said.

Ohio requires immediate reporting, Pierce said. But the state does not have a Web site where the public can view the information.

“I’m not sure we’ll have the resources to do that but it’s definitely something we will take a look at,” she said.

Researchers had to visit EPA offices in Ohio to get the information, Haragan said.

Pierce said she was unable to determine Wednesday if the state requires companies to report the amounts of accidental pollutants released, as the environmental group claimed.