Choking On Pollution

Loudon County choking on air pollution, task force says

Hugh G.
LOUDON Loudon County has serious air quality issues and needs to rethink the process it uses to recruit new industries, according to members of the local air quality task force.

"I have some great concerns over the industrial recruitment process," Dr. James P. "Bud" Guider, a pediatrician and member of the Loudon County Air Quality Task Force, told the county commission Monday.

The Tate and Lyle plant, pictured Wednesday, is located across the Tennessee River from the city of Loudon. It is one of five companies in Loudon County whose operations may cause major air contamination, requiring a Title V operating permit from the state. ---- ( J. MILES CARY/NEWS SENTINEL )

The county has experienced significant air quality issues over the past 10 years, including non-attainment of particulate matter goals. Over that time Guider said he has seen a 30 percent increase in children with asthma and respiratory problems such as bronchitis.

"In 2012 the Knoxville area was rated the worst in the nation for childhood asthma," he said.

There are about 20 pediatricians in the Knoxville area specializing in asthma, compared with about three or four such specialists in the Atlanta area, he said.

There are various reasons Loudon and East Tennessee in general have air quality issues, including locations of highways, geography, weather and the local industrial base, Guider said.

Addressing the problem of industrial emissions requires that local government work more closely with organizations such as the air quality task force before giving the green light to new industry, he said.

"It seems like the deal is done before the proper discussions on environmental impact," he said.

During the recruitment process, the Loudon County Economic Development Agency usually provides lots of data about the economic impact of the company involved. Elected officials are not given adequate information regarding environmental impact, he said.

Guider used the recently announced recruitment of Italian tile manufacturer Ceramica Del Conca as an example. The possibility that the company could bring 178 jobs to the county was well publicized, he said.

The county commission approved incentives for Ceramica Del Conca, including tax and infrastructure subsidies, based on the potential economic impact.

The air quality task force was never consulted on the possible impact of the new company, Guider said.

"I checked with county commissioners. They didn't have information on the environmental impact. I checked with (the) Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation. TDEC said they have no information," he said.

TDEC's Division of Air Pollution Control has not yet evaluated the potential impact of Ceramica Del Conca because they have not received an application from the company, according to spokeswoman Meg Lockhart.

TDEC approval after the county has already made a deal with the new company is like putting the cart before the horse, Guider said. The approval of TDEC is not an assurance that a new industry will not contribute to the existing air problems, he said.

"There is a perception that if TDEC approves an industry, that means it must be safe," he said.

Guider told commissioners he is concerned that TDEC does not take into account the cumulative effect of other industries in the county. Loudon already has several significant sources of industrial emissions.

New companies that meet the emissions standards are approved regardless of other existing industries, Guider said.

State regulations on pollution permits are designed to be protective of public health and air quality, TDEC's Lockhart said. Proposed new air contaminant sources may have additional restrictions based upon them in areas already identified as non-attainment for a given pollutant, she said.

Certain larger sources may also be subject to various requirements under the Prevention of Significant Deterioration Construction, New Source Review and Title V permitting regulations which may limit the amount and types of pollutants the new sources are allowed to emit, she said.

Loudon County is in attainment with federal and state ozone level requirements, Lockhart said. The county is classified as in non-attainment for the 24-hour annual standards for particulate matter. The standard has recently been lowered, and it is not clear whether the new standards will impact Loudon or the Knoxville region, she said.

Task force member and county commissioner Don Miller agreed that the process of industrial recruitment needs to involve a front-end evaluation of potential environmental concerns.

"We need some way to get air quality information before the deal is signed off," Miller said.

Commissioner Bob Franke said he thought issues such as measuring cumulative effects should be addressed with legislators in Nashville where TDEC policy is created.

Newly appointed task-force chairman Lewis Garner said the group has invited representatives of the Loudon County Economic Development Agency to attend future meetings. Garner said he hopes the task force will be more involved in future recruitment and approval of new industry.

"There is a lot of secrecy in the recruitment process. We want to be brought into the loop. We need to know what types of materials and processes are going to be used," he said.

Loudon County Economic Development Agency president Pat Phillips could not be reached for comment.