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Sole Surviving Browntown Industry Has Its Detractors

Last week's decision by the Wyalusing Township Supervisors at the end of a conditional use process on the Browntown site is currently in a 30-day appeal process and the clock is ticking.

It's not certain whether either of the two rejected parties—Ground/Water Treatment with its frack water plant or Fluids Management with its drilling mud operation—is going to bother to contest the decision.

The sole survivor, if you will, is the asphalt plant proposed by Glenn O. Hawbaker, Inc., which filed for the original zoning permit for all three operations back on Oct. 6, 2010. Hawbaker gets to move on with the asphalt plant, as long as it meets a list of 26 conditions reported in detail in last week's Rocket-Courier, and any or all of those may apparently be appealed. But there is also a possibility that the approval of the asphalt plant could be contested in court, and that is reportedly being considered by at least one group of concerned citizens, and their chief concern is what they are afraid will be released into the air.

The asphalt plant, as approved, will be a three-silo facility that can produce as much as 450 tons of asphalt per hour, but for about a 215-day time frame when the temperatures are appropriate for paving, they expect to turn out no more than 300 tons an hour. In a typical day, according to testimony, that would be about 85 20-ton truckloads during the peak operating period. That's 85 trucks in and 85 trucks out. Had the other two projects been approved, the truck traffic would have almost doubled that, with about 60 of those trucks being 5,000-gallon tanker trucks.

The concern that still remains is the emissions that will emanate from the asphalt plant, something that was barely addressed in the conditions. The two conditions that directly applied to emissions into the air, other than notifying the township of "reportable" incidents that would include air quality violations, were a ban on burning waste material other than that associated with their manufacturing process and a restriction on idling diesel trucks to 10 minutes. Hawbaker's Mike Welch testified that their trucks have devices that automatically shut idling engines down at the 10-minute mark.

Cumulative Repercussions?

One of the closest neighbors to the project area, Harry Schulze, is a retired chemist and his chief concern from the beginning has been the proposed asphalt plant. The rejected plants would be a greater immediate danger to the population were there a major accident or spill, but his concern about the asphalt plant is about what will be released into the air on a day-to-day basis. Combine that with what is described as an inversion on the river valley, where fumes, fog and smoke don't dissipate freely at times, and you'll find the most serious opposition to that project.

Hawbaker has been fined by DEP for air quality violations, something that is easy to find in an internet search, with one described as "numerous violations" over a two-year period in Centre County that resulted in fines totaling almost $62,000. That was more than four years ago, and it can be argued that no recent bad news is good news for the plant that is built here. Schulze says that regular scrubbing of the stacks would make a major difference in particulate matter released into the air less than a mile from the school complex, a day care facility and a personal care home, as well as some 40 residences.

Hazardous air pollutants that are emitted from asphalt plants include benzene and methylene chloride. They also release sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide, the stuff found in what is known as acid rain. The key is whether they are acceptable rates, if there is such a thing, and that's what is monitored by the EPA. In fact, there are 188 hazardous air pollutants the state and federal environmental agencies are expected to monitor and control.

To Hawbaker's credit, it is well respected in the construction field for not only the way it does business, but how it treats its employees. Their track record does indicate some responsiveness on their part to any air-quality violations. The fines, by the way, are not as much of a deterrent, due to the amount of business they do, as the threat of shutting down for even so much as a day during the paving season.

Contaminants of Concern

The chief contaminants of concern that are emitted from asphalt plants, according to Schulze's research, come right off the EPA fact sheets on volatile organic compounds (VOC) known to be emitted from asphalt plants. The chemical composition of asphalt varies, depending on the process used, but the contaminants generally cited are hydrogen sulfide, benzene, chromium, formaldehyde, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, cadmium and arsenic. Obviously, any of these in significant amounts and with regular exposure could be disastrous to people living nearby. But a number of these, such as arsenic, chromium and cadmium, are naturally occurring and supposedly harmless in small amounts. Others are emitted with the burning of so-called natural materials like coal, oil and even garbage.

Hydrogen sulfide (H2S) remains in the air for about 18 hours and then turns into sulfur dioxide and sulfuric acid. There are all kinds of studies of the effects of regular exposure to this colorless gas that is detectable mainly by its odor, the smell of rotten eggs. The same can be said for all of the VOCs on this list—all of which have been the subject of studies and impact on health based on volume and exposure. Whether it is fair to suggest that an asphalt plant will mean serious health problems down the road is subject for debate, but the fact that these contaminants are associated with the process seems reason enough for those against building such an operation in their neighborhood.

"Personal permissible exposure limits are determined in a lab with mice," argues Wyalusing area resident Joe Shervinski, one of the most vocal opponents of any and all of the proposed facilities in Browntown. "What about long-term effects to human health?"

Shervinski feels that too many residents and children are just too close to this proposed operation, and the topography in Browntown is, in his opinion, "a worst case use of any industry with such permitted allowable emissions of chemicals and hazardous processes."

Schulze and his wife, Jane, have lived in Browntown for almost 60 years, and he is generally regarded as a quiet man of reason. This is one issue that he felt he had to speak out about.

"Browntown is just not a good place for an asphalt plant," he concludes after much research and contemplation.

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