Friends of Perdido Bay

10738 Lillian Highway

Pensacola, FL 32506


Tidings The Newsletter of the Friends of Perdido Bay

December 2001 Volume 14 Number 5 Jackie Lane -Editor

Waiting for an Answer

Friends of Perdido Bay had hoped to have another meeting before the end of the year. The plan was for International Paper to come back and give us an updated version of their constructed wetland treatment system and hopefully more concrete details. At our last meeting we had an expert on wetland treatment systems, Dr. Kevin White from University of South Alabama, give us an overview of what we can expect from such systems. The talk was very informative. Dr. White has also agreed to review the wetland plans of International Paper to make sure the engineering is sound. But so far we have no plans. International Paper has not returned my phone calls or request for a speaker. It is beginning to appear that IP is beginning to show their true colors. Stalling and doing nothing has become a real habit for the paper companies.

The pipeline/wetland treatment system is supposed to be a joint project between Escambia County Utilities Authority (ECUA) and International Paper. An official with ECUA told me recently that the wetland plans are still "evolving" and that there was no definite design yet for the wetlands. He also said that IP was saying there was no need to make a "constructed" wetland. According to IP, discharging into a natural wetland was sufficient. So inspite of IP's reassurances last Spring at our meeting that this pipeline/wetland plan was definitely going to happen relatively rapidly, there is really no new news or plans to bring you up to date. Does this sound familiar?

Because we have no new news, our meeting that we hoped to have in December will be rescheduled for January or February of next year. Maybe IP will respond.

EDITOR' NOTE: IP has just responded to our invitation to speak. They have declined, citing our legal challenges as a reason.

Bad Air

For the past year, the residents in the Pensacola area have been hearing reports of the ozone pollution in the air. Over the past three years (from 1995 to 2000), air sensors in Escambia County have detected levels of ozone which have exceed the "safe" level set by the EPA. New air regulations are supposed to go into effect soon which would penalize areas in the country with levels of ozone that exceed the new limit. No new emissions would be permitted (no new business), transportation funds would be held back and other dire sanctions would be imposed. These sanctions would bring growth to a screeching halt. The only other area in Florida which is going to have these sanctions imposed is the Tampa area.

Where does this ozone come from and why is it so bad in this area? Nitrous oxide (NOx) and Volatile Organic Carbons (VOC) contribute to ozone formation. NOx is formed during burning or combustion and is changed by sunlight to make ozone. At higher levels in the atmosphere, ozone is good. It blocks the UV rays from the sun. However, if ozone is present in the air we breath, it can cause damage to the lung tissue. Ozone can also damage leaves in plants and reduce plant growth and reproduction. The nitrogen part of nitrous oxide can enter our waters and contribute to over fertilization and increased acidity. It also is part of the "smog" problem.

What are the sources of NOx and VOC? At first, we heard that it was pine trees causing the high levels of ozone. Pine trees do emit volatile organic material which can contribute to ozone formation. But why should Pensacola have higher levels than Tallahassee which is also surrounded by pine trees? No, pines trees are not the culprits themselves. Automobiles which emit nitrous oxide (NOx),and carbon monoxide (CO) are responsible for ozone violations in many large cities. The Tampa area can blame automobiles; Pensacola really would have a hard time putting the blame solely on cars. Another explanation put forth earlier was that ozone was coming from industries in the North and in Alabama. But alas, a recent study has shown that most of the ozone in our air is generated locally.

So why is Pensacola's ozone so bad? Unfortunately, it appears that a power plant and industry are the major sources that send Pensacola's air out of compliance. A report published by Fish and Wildlife's Air Quality Branch in April 2000, indicated that Gulf Power's Crist Plant contributed 52% of the total NOx emissions from major air emitting facilities. This amounted to 12,475 tons of NOx a year.

The next biggest contributor was Solutia which generates 3324 tons of NOx a year and then International Paper with 2514 tons a year. There are also many other smaller contributors. Escambia County Utilities Authority emitted 41 tons NOx per year in their sludge incinerator which has been replaced by a sludge drier. In Santa Rosa County, Air Products was the largest source of NOx with 2520 tons and Exxon in Jay was second with 1484.

The local solution to control ozone is for Gulf Power to modernize some of the old boilers at the Crist Plant. The boilers at Gulf Power have been "grandfathered in" and as a result do not have to meet the more stringent requirements that newer boilers have to meet. Gulf Power may be in compliance but that does not necessarily mean that they are being environmentally friendly. Another solution is to try and get the public to cut back on driving. That may be a very worthwhile goal, but one which is going to be difficult to achieve. Public transportation in Pensacola is not good and people live too far from jobs and stores to bike or walk.

It is interesting that the other two big industrial sources of ozone producing pollutants, Solutia and International Paper are not part of the plan to reduce NOx emissions. Back in 1993 when Champion Paper had applied for a new air permit, we challenged that permit, in large part because of the increased amounts of nitrous oxides which they had proposed at the time to release. Champion increased their power generating capabilities and as a result, increased their nitrous oxide emissions. A hearing officer said we did not have standing to oppose the permit, and that was the end of our challenge. In hind sight we should have appealed that ruling. If we had won, the ozone problem may not have occurred.

Other air pollutants which are regulated by the EPA are known as Hazardous Air Pollutants (HAP). These chemicals can cause health problems, including cancer. The Fish and Wildlife Report listed the amounts of some of these HAPs which industrial facilities release. In Escambia County, the only local facility which is reporting Cl mercury release is International Paper which releases 2 tons per year. Arizona Chemical reported releasing 22 tons per year of xylene. In Santa Rosa County, Fabbro Marine released 12 tons per year of styrene and Sterling Fibers released 34 tons per year of acrylonitrile. This is just a very brief list of the air pollutants, and at least one of the companies, Solutia, was not even listed. Solutia, undoubtly, releases some hazardous air pollutants.

The total amount of air pollutants released by companies is probably much greater than what is allowed in permits. Most companies are not 100% efficient at controlling the chemicals they use or make in their processes. These chemicals are released. Some chemicals are not even listed as hazardous air pollutants. Dioxin was one such chemical until new air pollution standards went into effect several years ago. Certain types of dioxin may still be released by paper companies, but the EPA does not require testing for this type of dioxin. Most air permits allow companies to "vent" gases for a certain length of time. The companies must report "venting" episodes that exceed a certain length of time - 30 to 60 minutes, or total length of venting time per year. When we challenged Champion Paper's air permit in the early 1990's we were amazed to find that another local company, Solutia had exceeded their allowable venting time many times. They simply wrote a check to the DEP for these violations. A $1000 check will hardly cover the medical bills of the people that these "venting" episodes may have made sick. Hopefully Solutia has improved since the early 1990's. But what is clear - environmental regulation is not very effective at keeping our air safe. Big industries are always lobbying to make air pollution standards more lax, or to have large loopholes in rules. The air emissions rule allowing old polluting boilers, such as the Crist Plant's boilers, to be "grandfathered in" is an example of a BIG loophole.

Is It Cleaner?

Many people ask us why the water in Perdido Bay is always clearer in the winter. The answer is because bacteria do not grow well in water that is cooler than 25 0C or 700 F. Just like a fish tank becomes cloudy when you add too much food, Perdido Bay tends to be cloudy in the summer due to the large populations of bacteria which thrive on the partially decayed material released by the paper mill. In the winter, the partially decayed material is still there (matter of fact the paper mill releases more decayed material in the winter), but the water is too cold to allow bacteria to grow.

One celled plants, called phytoplanton, also can make the water appear cloudy. Phytoplankton live suspended in the water and can block the light reaching the bottom. Phytoplankton, like bacteria, do not grow well when the water becomes cold, but phytoplankton can usually stand slightly cooler water than bacteria.

Material brought in from the rivers or resuspended from the bottom by wind and waves can also make the bay appear cloudy or turbid. This resuspension can happen summer or winter and depends on storms rather than water temperature.

Have a Happy Holiday.