EPA Region 7 Credibility Issue

By Craig Volland, Air Quality Chair

The CertainTeed Case.  The Clean Air Act regulations require that every eight years the EPA must review the air emission rules for the numerous industries in the U.S.  One of these is the Wool Fiberglass Manufacturing industry.  Kansas City, Kansas is unusual in that it hosts two major fiberglass insulation plants within a mile of each other just north of the central business district in the Missouri River bottoms.  One is owned by Owens Corning, Inc., and the other by CertainTeed Corp.

The existing rules allow operators to measure particles as a surrogate for heavy metal emissions.  Measuring particles exiting the stack is much easier than testing individually for a number of toxic heavy metals like cadmium, lead, mercury and hexavalent chromium.  The regulatory review is necessary because manufacturing technologies change over time.  Indeed in the past decade, the fiberglass industry has been switching to a new “oxyfuel” process where the glass melting furnace is hyped up by feeding in pure oxygen and running at a very high temperature.  The high temperatures require that the furnaces be lined with a special chromium refractory brick.  As part of this review EPA put out a call for new emissions data.

In 2010 tests at one of CertainTeed’s furnaces in KCK showed alarmingly high levels of hexavalent chromium, which is not effectively removed by the facility’s particle controls.  Hex Chromium is a highly toxic and a known carcinogen.  EPA Region 7 properly reacted by installing a special monitor on the bluffs that lie at about the same elevation as the top of the CertainTeed stack.  This would give a good reading for possible impacts on nearby residential areas.

The first sample was taken on December 8, 2011, and monitoring was scheduled to last six months.  On January 30, 2012, EPA met with residents near the plant and presented the first month’s results, stating that they “do not indicate a health concern.”  EPA failed to mention that CertainTeed had shut the offending furnace on December 12 because of poor market conditions.

I immediately complained that this would greatly compromise the study, and monitoring was discontinued after just three months.  EPA Region 7 continues, however, to maintain that there is no health concern, though they now cite the furnace closure on their web page.

We disagree and commented to the national EPA that a renewed monitoring program is essential after all the furnaces of both companies are back in operation.  I would have left it at that, but EPA Region 7 seems to have slipped up again.

The Ash Grove Cement Kiln case.  The Ash Grove Cement Company has been burning large quantities of hazardous waste in Chanute Kansas since the 1980s.  Some residents in the city have been concerned about health impacts for years while others are concerned about safekeeping their jobs at the town’s major employer.  To address this situation, EPA Region 7 and KDHE devised an environmental screening study focused on the city of Chanute.

This included soil tests, sampling in nearby Village Creek and monitoring for air emissions.  I participated in a public planning meeting in June, 2011, at EPA Region 7 offices attended mostly by the concerned citizens of Chanute and Ash Grove workers and management.  In November of 2011, NPR ran a story on this controversy.  See our analysis in the Dec. ‘11 – Jan.’12 issue of Planet Kansas.

So from December 1, 2011, to August 15, 2012, EPA and KDHE collected particulate matter (PM) data at several monitors located in Chanute.  In a report dated September 12, 2012, EPA noted that there were no results that would violate the ambient air quality standard, implying there was no cause for concern.  But during a routine review of the Ash Grove permit file, I found a letter dated April 16, 2012, wherein Ash Grove notified KDHE that their furnace had been down in January and February of 2012.  This was not mentioned in EPA’s report.

The Ash Grove Cement kiln is located on the north edge of town.  All the monitors were located to the south.  Wind directional data in the EPA report showed that (as one would expect) January and February were the months when northerly winds were most likely to carry particles to the monitors.  From March 1 to August 1, the bulk of the study period, the winds were remarkably consistent from the south and would have carried Ash Grove’s emissions away from the monitors.

EPA and KDHE have tried to indicate that the study was not just about the Ash Grove facility.  However, in terms of PM monitoring, the cement kiln is easily the largest potential source of emissions in the immediate area, and no conclusions are valid when the operation is shut at a time when emissions are most likely to be detected by the monitors.

It’s not EPA’s fault that the plants were shut after monitoring had begun, but they should have immediately informed the public about it.  The purpose of this article is merely to notify the public that EPA Region 7 has not shown by their studies that the CertainTeed fiberglass plant and the Ash Grove cement kiln are harmless.  Additional study is warranted.

EPA’s web page for the Chanute study can be accessed at the link below.  EPA’s Sept 12, 2012, report has not been posted on this page (as of June 18, 2013).  However, it can be obtained from the second link provided.  We have recently written to EPA Region 7 requesting that they notify the public about the problem with their Chanute report.


National EPA Settlement with Ash Grove Cement Co.  On a brighter note, in June, 2013, USEPA entered into a consent decree with Ash Grove covering all their cement kilns in the U.S.  At Chanute, Ash Grove will install a system to inject ammonia into flue gas to reduce oxides of nitrogen which is a component of ozone smog and haze.  They must also meet tighter standards for sulfur dioxide and particulate matter.  Until I see the permit application it’s not clear if these new limits will require any additions of control equipment or reduce the fine particle component.  The settlement does not appear to directly deal with mercury emissions.  More info is available at

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