Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Pulp, Paper Plants Head Pollution List but Industry Still Just 6% of Total

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Pulp, Paper Plants Head Pollution List but Industry Still Just 6% of Total

Article excerpt

Byline: Bruce I. Friedland, Times-Union staff writer

When it comes to industrial pollution in Southeast Georgia, the forest product industry is king.

Two of the area's plants, the Georgia-Pacific Corp. pulp mill in Brunswick and the Durango-Georgia Paper Co. mill in St. Marys, produced more than 70 percent of the region's industrial pollution, according the Environmental Protection Agency.

The third-largest polluter is a facility in Brunswick, operated by Hercules Inc., that extracts resins from tree trunks and sells it.

Factory pollution in Bacon, Camden, Charlton, Glynn, McIntosh and Ware counties grew by 3.5 percent to 4.8 million pounds in 1999, the latest year for which data is available. During the same period, Northeast Florida pollution dropped by almost 3 percent.

The Georgia-Pacific plant was the main source of the Southeast Georgia increase.

Between 1998 and 1999, the plant's release of compounds such as methanol, ammonia and acetaldehyde jumped 28 percent to 1.9 million pounds.

Area environmentalists say that though the amount of pollution in the Brunswick area has decreased through the 1990s, the factory discharge still extracts a toll.

"The real concern is when you look at the health problems that these chemicals affect," said Daniel Parshley, a project manager with the Glynn Environmental Coalition, an advocacy group.

On many days, the wind disperses these chemicals. But sometimes weather conditions trap the pollution in the area around the plants, stepping up the health effects, he said.

"The most common complaint we get is 'I was driving near such-and-such a plant, and I had an asthma attack,' " Parshley said.

Though smoke coming from a factory is a highly visible source of pollution in a community, even environmental activists -- who support even tighter standards -- admit that industry is only a piece of the problem.

Moreover, industrial pollution is not the source of the pollution that experts think most affects residents' health.

If one wanted to reduce cancer risk in the region, "you wouldn't start with the big smokestacks," said David Roe, a senior attorney with Environmental Defense, a New York City-based advocacy group. "You'd start with the little ones coming out of the automobiles."

Using public data, Environmental Defense estimates that industrial facilities -- including the Navy -- only account for about 6 percent of the area's pollution. Automobiles, trucks, trains and other forms of transportation account for about 58 percent, said Roe, speaking from the group's Oakland, Calif. office.

The remainder is caused by small businesses, such as dry cleaners and those firms working with metal, plastics and other chemicals. The levels of pollution released by many small companies fall below EPA reporting requirements.

USING A FORMULA

The surge at Georgia-Pacific reflects greater production, said Bert Langley, an official with the Georgia Environmental Protection Division.

"They had a good year," Langley said of the factory, which was busier in 1999 than the previous year.

But production at the plant is not the important part of the story, said Anna Umphress, a spokeswoman for the Atlanta-based forest products giant.

The big increase resulted from a change in the formula that the plant uses to calculate emissions.

"We don't see it as a change," she said.

According to EPA guidelines, paper and pulp plants don't physically measure all their pollution. Rather the figure results from a formula that's directly tied to the amount of pulp material produced.

Those formulas are provided to Georgia-Pacific by the National Council for Air and Stream Improvement, an industry-funded research institute.

The formulas used for calculating paper and pulp mill pollution change each year based on the research results of the National Council's 100-member staff, said Ronald Yeske, its director. …

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