Thursday, January 28, 2010

EPA Setting New Air Standards for SO2 and NO2 for First Time in Over 30 Years

Earlier this week (1/25/2010), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) set a new, more protective ambient air quality standard for short-term nitrogen dioxide (NO2) concentrations that can aggravate asthma and other respiratory ailments, the first time in 35 years EPA has lowered the NO2 standard. See “EPA Strengthens Air Quality Standard for Nitrogen Dioxide/First new NO2 standard in 35 years will improve air quality for millions” for details.

EPA also proposed last November to set a new, more stringent sulfur dioxide (SO2) ambient air quality standard to protect people from short-term SO2 concentrations that can aggravate asthma, the first time in almost 40 years EPA has lowered the SO2 standard. See “EPA Proposes Stronger Air Quality Standards for Sulfur Dioxide/New standard to protect millions of the nation’s most vulnerable citizens” for details.

NO2 emissions occur whenever fuels are burned because nitrogen (N2) comprises about 79 percent of the air that is used to burn fuels (oxygen comprises most of the remaining 21% of air). Cars, trucks and offroad engines (e.g., lawnmowers, generators) are major sources of NO and NO2 emissions, collectively referred to as NOx. Catalytic converters help reduce NOx emissions from cars. Other major NOx sources are fossil fuel power plants, cement plants, and glass manufacturing plants. The EPA is most concerned about short-term high NO2 concentrations close to highways and busy roads and is requiring states to start monitoring NO2 levels near roads. The largest single source of NOx emissions in Berks County is Lehigh Cement’s Evansville plant. Lehigh Cement is in the process of installing NOx pollution controls on their two cement kilns, which they plan to operate to reduce NOx emissions in the summer “ozone season”. NOx emissions contribute to ozone pollution through photochemical reactions with volatile organic compounds in the summer months.

SO2 emissions are primarily associated with coal power plants because coal has very high sulfur content compared to other fuels like gas and oil. Many large coal power plants have installed scrubbers to remove SO2 emissions but other smaller coal plants continue to operate without SO2 pollution controls because they are older “grandfathered” plants that are allowed to operate by purchasing SO2 allowances under the Acid Rain and CAIR cap and trade programs. The largest single source of SO2 emissions in Berks County is the Reliant Energy Titus Station coal power plant located at the intersection of Rt. 422 and Rt. 176 on the Schuylkill River south of Reading. The Reliant Titus Station plant does not operate state-of-the-art NOx or SO2 scrubbers. The plant has operated since the 1950's and is considered grandfathered. The plant is relatively small compared to other coal power plants in western PA and has secured SO2 and NOx allowances rather than installing these controls under the Acid Rain and CAIR programs.

Here is a summary of the largest SO2 and NOx stationary sources in Berks County using the latest 2008 PA DEP air emissions data, with emission rates shown in tons per year (Source: PA DEP eFACTS )

Berks County Pollution Sources - NOx (tons/year), SO2 (tons/year)
Reliant Energy Titus Station – coal power plant – Reading
2,061 NOx, 12,128 SO2

Lehigh Cement – cement plant - Maiden Creek
2,157 NOx, 286 SO2

Carpenter Technologies – specialty steel mill – Reading
235 NOx, 20 SO2

Texas Eastern – gas pipeline compressor – Bechtelsville
197 NOx, 2 SO2

Texas Eastern – gas pipeline compressor – Bernville
152 NOx, SO2

East Penn Mfg. – lead smelter and battery plants – Lyons
86 NOx, 29 SO2

Exide Technologies – lead smelter - Laureldale
61 NOx, 111 SO2

Ontelaunee Power – gas power plant – Ontelaunee
39 NOx, 3 SO2

Glen Gery - brick plant - Shoemakersville
25 NOx, 60 SO2

In light of these new air standards for SO2 and NO2 it is reasonable to be concerned about possible localized NO2 impacts at residences and schools that are located close to busy roads. It is also reasonable to be concerned about possible localized SO2 impacts associated with large SO2 sources like Reliant Titus Station that have avoided installing scrubbers by purchasing allowances under the Acid Rain or CAIR cap and trade programs.

Gavin Biebuyck
Liberty Environmental, Inc.

1 comment:

  1. This is great information. Not in the sense that it's such great news to learn that our air is polluted but in the sense of being informed and that the EPA is doing its job. I've often felt that the public gets inadequate information in Berks regarding our air quality. Thanks Gavin and the Conservacny for putting this on the blog.