Helena Chemical hearings: clearing the air or corporate smokescreen?
Although it may seem obvious to the folks who have to breathe the air and drink the water in Mesquite, Helena Chemical company – despite a history of air and groundwater violations – doesn’t understand why it must operate with an air quality permit. Helena is now holding public hearings with the Environmental Improvement Board to explain why it is appealing the NMED’s ruling that their operations require regulation. The next meeting is Wednesday.
A history of violations
In July 2008 Helena Chemical company agreed to pay $208, 331 to settle the 10 air quality permit complaints issued against their Mesquite fertilizer plant by the New Mexico Environment Department. From an NMED press release about the settlement:
“Helena must pay a considerable penalty for violating state air quality laws that any responsible business owner would find reasonable to follow,” said NMED Environmental Protection Division Director Jim Norton.“We will continue to monitor the company to ensure its operations do not endanger residents or the environment.”
Seven inspections conducted by the department’s Air Quality Bureau between March and June 2007 (only four months!) uncovered 10 violations of the Air Quality Control Act, Air Quality Control Regulations and Helena’s air permit with the department. Here’s a summary of the alleged violations:
- allowing emissions from the facility to escape outdoors
- having a malfunctioning chute that allowed emissions to escape during product loading
- failing to follow best engineering practices by keeping doors open while off-loading fertilizer into trucks; failing to keep the south haul road swept to control dust
- failing to conduct compliance tests of regulated equipment on schedule
- failing to notify the department of the installation of new equipment
- failing during two periods of time to monitor differential pressure in inches of water across the dust-collection system
- neglecting to conduct inspections of building enclosures and keep records of those inspections
- failing to use proper methods of observing emissions during various operations
- neglecting to maintain daily and annual production rates for emissions limits
Clearly, Helena has a history of air quality violations. Why does it think it no longer needs to have their air quality regulated?
He said, she said
Despite this history of environmental violations, Helena Chemical filed a notice of intent in October 2008 informing the NMED that it didn’t need an air quality permit anymore – in other words, it believes it no longer needs to be regulated. According to an October 2008 Las Cruces Sun-News article, here’s their justification for not needing the permit:
“Based on our low level of emissions, the existing air quality permit is unnecessary and creates confusion between NMED and Helena in establishing the appropriate regulatory standards and procedures for our dry fertilizer storage facility in Mesquite,” said Ed Brister, director of regulatory compliance and engineering for Helena.
Brister’s claim is based on the findings of a study – paid for by Helena Chemical – by the Center of Toxicology and Environmental Health. State Environment Secretary Ron Curry responded with the following:
“Managers of Helena cannot decide whether they need a permit. We determine that… This baseless and audacious announcement is a waste of state resources. Helena is a flagrant violator of state and federal air quality laws and must be brought into compliance.”
An April 10 Albuquerque Journal article about Helena’s groundwater cleanup violations mentions that NMED denied Helena’s request to operate without an air quality permit. Although no explanation for the denial is provided in the article, it seems to me that Helena’s history of environmental violations makes it a strong candidate for continued regulation.
The first meeting was held last week in Santa Fe and the next meeting will be held at noon Wednesday at the Parish Hall of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, 125 Mesquite Drive, Mesquite.
Helena Chemical company has betrayed the public trust in multiple instances, beyond what I’ve outlined in this post. Hearings like this seem like the perfect opportunity for citizens committed to healthy communities to send a clear message to corporations with a significant history of violating our environmental standards (like Helena) that they require regulation. Will the public and the EIB rebuff Helena’s “audacious” requests or will it be business as usual?
If you get a chance, head down to Mesquite Wednesday and speak up for our right to live in safe and clean communities.
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