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ECO-BEAT

Two more pollution regulators blast Intel “sham” permit

Condensed and combined articles from the Corrales Comment, February 7 and February 21

Jeff Radford,
Corrales Comment

Two more former air quality regulators have spoken out against the air pollution permit issued to Intel, saying it is unenforceable and does not protect public health. One of them, former Air Quality Bureau enforcement officer Matt Stebleton, said he was regularly sickened during his inspections at the Intel facility. Stebleton and his then supervisor, Debby Brinkerhoff, program manager in the bureau’s enforcement section, now retired, said at a news conference January 30 that politics interfered with a crackdown on Intel when the microchip maker violated its pollution permit. Brinkerhoff and Stebleton strongly supported assertions last month by recently-retired air quality permit writer Jim Shively who called the Intel air pollution permit a sham. “Jim knows what he’s talking about. He was the most honest guy up there [in the Santa Fe Air Quality Bureau],” said Stebleton. “He went straight by the guidelines.

Brinkerhoff and Stebleton were involved in an aborted enforcement action against Intel in 1994 when stack tests revealed excessive acid gas emissions. “We were never allowed to issue a notice of violations,” Brinkerhoff said. “We had acid gas scrubber violations for several days when they exceeded their limit. We wrote up the notice of violation, and I took it to Bill Blankenship, who was the bureau chief at that time. “For an entire year—12 months, 14 months— I continued to pester him, but we were never allowed to issue that notice of violation. I was extremely frustrated by that.”

Hydrogen fluoride and hydrogen chloride are some of the more toxic substances Intel is allowed by permit to release. But they are just two of more than 80 federally classified Hazardous Air Pollutants (HAPs) which the Intel air permit allows. Recent air monitoring with the sophisticated Fourier transform infrared (FTIR) device by Corrales Residents for Clean Air and Water and Southwest Organizing Project has recorded other industrial toxins in Corrales’ air including, hydrogen cyanide, phosgene, carbon tetrachloride, hexafluoroethane, benzene, xylene, toluene and seven others. In addition to the 1994 acid gas violations, Intel was also found to be violating its emissions limits for volatile organic compounds (VOCs, mostly solvents) in the same general time period. A notice of violations was, in fact, issued for excess VOC emissions over 41 weeks during 1992-93. Although Intel officials never admitted guilt for those excess emissions, the corporation paid a $40,000 fine … and proceeded to re-write the permit which Shively and others now consider a sham. During the long negotiations with Intel over the air pollution permit revision, Brinkerhoff accompanied Shively in unsuccessfully demanding that Intel install continuous emissions monitoring equipment. She said that became all the more important when they discovered Intel’s acid gas scrubbers were nowhere near as effective as the company claimed. “The acid gas scrubbers, if they’re still using them, are purely decoration.”

The man who supervised testing of them, Stebleton, agreed. “They did some before-and-after testing and found out the scrubbers weren’t doing anything. They were just decoration.” Brinkerhoff added, “They claimed that the scrubbers were going to clean up 90 percent of the acid gases going through there. And then we discovered that scrubbers can never be more than 70 percent efficient at their very, absolute best.” Stebleton added, “The tests showed it wasn’t working in 1994, but I can’t speak for what has happened since then.” He said Corrales residents were calling his office eight to twelve times a day in the early 1990s complaining about health effects from Intel’s emissions, “and every call was from a different person. “They had itchy eyes, sore throat, headache, the whole gamut of things.” Stebleton said he himself grew allergic to Intel’s fumes after repeated inspections there. “Over the time that I was going there I got kind of allergic to the emissions. My throat would close up faster and faster, and I would itch. “I started dreading going there,” he explained, “especially if it was a long day, like 12 to 14 hours. “I was going there for about four years, and by the fourth year, as soon as I hit the plant, as soon as I opened the door and went into the plant, I’d start closing up and getting a headache. “It came faster and faster, so I thought I was developing sensitivity to it. “I used to spend about 12 weeks a year there. The first year, I was happy as a clam and it didn’t bother me. I just stunk bad when I went home. “But by the fourth year, as soon as I opened the door and I started walking toward it, I started feeling something in my throat. “I said to myself, ‘Not good… I don’t like this.’” Stebleton said it is a mistake for the public to think that emissions levels allowed in Intel’s permit are safe for public exposure. “The way regulations are written, it’s not based on health effects. It’s not a matter of getting a bunch of scientists in a room to say, ‘well, we found the health effects on rats is this and the [extrapolated] effects on humans is this.’ That’s not how it’s done. That’s how people think it is done, but it’s not.” And even if such a process were followed to determine toxicity in humans, Brinkerhoff added, that would not address the problem of exposures to multiple toxins. “It never takes into account the synergistic effects, which I feel has a big impact on people. “You sensitize somebody’s lungs with hydrogen chloride fumes and then you stick something else in there and they’re going to absorb it a whole lot quicker.”

Corrales Air Toxics Task Force member Peggy Everett, an Albuquerque resident bothered by Intel’s fumes, proclaimed at a February 5 meeting she is ready to demonstrate in front of the governor’s office to demand Intel’s permit be re-opened. Everett, who holds a master’s degree in physics, said she is thoroughly angry that Secretary Curry’s Environmental Protection Division chief, Jim Norton, has no intention of re-opening the Intel permit regardless of what the task force finds. Mayor Gary Kanin has formally requested that N.M. Environment Secretary Ron Curry re-open and tighten Intel’s air pollution permit. In a February 16 letter to Curry, the mayor called for re-consideration of the permit issued to Intel in March 2000 which allows the microchip manufacturer to average its toxic emissions over a year’s time and provides virtually no limits on short-term exposures to nearby residents. 

 

Placitas Recycling Association seeks directors,
grant writer

Robin Brandin

The Placitas Recycling Association invites residents of the Placitas area to consider joining its board of directors.

The nonprofit association's main mission is to operate the recycle center on Highway 165 just east of Interstate 25 and to educate area residents about the benefits of recycling.

The duties of board members include meeting once every quarter and working four three-hour shifts a year at the recycle center. The center, which is run completely by volunteers, is open on the second and fourth Saturdays of every month from 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. (weather permitting).

The board is also seeking assistance from anyone in the community who has experience writing grant applications. The association is interested in applying for grants that will allow it to expand the materials that can be accepted for recycling.

Among other initiatives, the association is currently expanding the recycle center to provide more space and better maneuvering room for vehicles, as well as investigating programs and grants that will enable it to accept and recycle more items. Presently, market conditions limit the items that the recycle center can accept. Acceptable items include cardboard (corrugated only), aluminum, plastic (clear and translucent #1 and #2 only; no opaque), newspaper, white ledger, brown Kraft paper (such as grocery bags), and polystyrene packing peanuts (double bagged). Cardboard moving boxes in good condition are set aside and are available on request. Unfortunately, the center cannot currently accept glass, nonaluminum cans, or other plastics. For more information, to join the Placitas Recycling Association Board of Directors, or to offer assistance with grant applications, please contact Fran Stephens at 867-3077.

 

Regional plan seeks to balance water use with renewable supply

Bill Diven

As drought lingers and competition for water intensifies, a new plan hopes to distribute fairly both the supplies and the pain. And that, not surprisingly when water is the issue, makes some people nervous.

The Middle Rio Grande Regional Water Plan now being put into final form offers forty-three recommendations for handling water demands over the next fifty years. Those range from a simple ideas like promoting water conservation to potentially explosive issues like identifying all water rights and deciding who's first in line.

In several presentations around the county, Bob Wessely, president of the New Mexico Water Assembly, offered assurances the plan is intended only as a framework for decisions by local governments. Yet he also painted a bleak future if present trends continue.

“The mission is to balance water use with renewable supply,“ he said during a public presentation of the plan at Bernalillo Town Hall. “We are out of balance now. There's just so long you can do that.“

The local plan is one of sixteen being prepared around the state that will be gathered into a state plan, he added.

The local plan excludes pueblos, however, who acted only as observers during the five-year planning process, according to Mike Trujillo of the Mid-Region Council of Governments, which coauthored the document with the Water Assembly. The pueblos, who claim senior water rights, were concerned about revealing positions they might have to defend later in federal court, he said.

Wayne Sandoval, president of the Las Acequias de Placitas, said he questioned where the money would come from to implement the plan. Recent attempts to get state funding for the Placitas water system were rebuffed, he said.

“We ran out of water,“ Sandoval said. “What more criteria to you need than that?“

Others questioned the first priority listed in the plan encouraging the state to reduce pumping from domestic wells and restrict new wells that could impair the aquifer. “That 's usually the small guy who's dug deep into his pocket for his well,” one Placitas resident said, with another adding that well owners generally practice water conservation because they know the cost of a new well.

Still, the issues, including rapid development during an unusually wet period of history, will not go away. “If there’s nothing else in this region that brings us together as a community, it’s the water plan,“ county commissioner Bill Sapien said. “Is it a panacea? Probably not. Is it a step in the right direction? Yes.“

The plan is available in condensed and longer forms including two thousand pages of support material on a CD-ROM from the Mid-Region Council of Governments in Albuquerque and on-line from the New Mexico Water Assembly at www.waterassembly.org.

 

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