Alcoa-Eastalco Works, an aluminum manufacturer in Adamstown, claims a miscalculation in numbers is the reason behind a report showing the company’s release of hydrogen fluoride jumped slightly more than 2 million pounds.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) indicates that Eastalco’s release of hydrogen fluoride jumped from 594,787 pounds in 2001 to more than 2.5 million pounds in 2002. These are the most recent numbers the agency has compiled.
Hydrogen fluoride is used in the production of aluminum.
But, according to Eastalco officials, an error occurred in their calculations and the new number is 903,673 pounds.
“The issue is that there was an error in the document for 2002,” said Ron Blain, environmental affairs manager for the company. “We had some staff changes in the plant and there was a different interpretation of what needed to be in the reporting. The reporting is not easy. The calculation is wrong. It’s too high. We certainly didn’t have that kind of increase.”
The company misinterpreted the data it was supposed to submit on the report, Blain said. In addition to reporting the amount of hydrogen fluoride gas released into the air, Eastalco reported the amount of fluoride sludge created at the plant that is stored in an on-site landfill, and not released into the air.
The sludge amount reported accounted for the huge gap in emissions between 2001 and 2002, Blain said.
“We’ve already taken action to update those numbers,” he said.
William Reilly, with the Environmental Protection Agency’s toxic program and enforcement branch, confirmed that Eastalco is addressing the issue.
The number does indicate that Eastalco tops the Toxics Release Inventory list for nine companies in Frederick County.
Pat Strawder lives just down from the plant and worries about the chemicals released.
“It will definitely worry me now that I know,” said Strawder, who was unaware of the toxic report. “I would like a better understanding of what is being released. Does it mean I’m breathing it? I grow a garden; does it mean it’s in my vegetables?”
Released by the Environmental Protection Agency on June 23, the data details the toxic chemicals discharged into the air and water from power plants and other facilities across the nation, including nine companies in Frederick County.
The reporting of data is required under the federal Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act, passed in 1986. The entire report includes the amount, location and type of chemical released into the environment and whether it is discharged into the water or air. It also includes information on waste that is shipped off site for disposal or further treatment.
The intent of the report is to make this information available to the public, specifically residents who live near these plants.
“The whole purpose of the report is for companies to dialogue with the public,” Reilly said “The program is very effective. If they [companies] have high numbers they want to get them down.”
Industries are encouraged to lower their discharge of toxic chemicals through various pollution prevention measures.
The data collected is also submitted to the Maryland Department of the Environment.
But the department does little with the information.
“We don’t turn it into a report, but it can provide us with what the heck is coming out of that stack,” said Richard McIntire, spokesman with the Maryland Department of the Environment. “It gives citizens once a year the primary source these companies are admitting. It’s useful for individuals with respiratory concerns.”
In Frederick County, the companies and the amount of toxic chemicals (these chemicals are legal and are all within permitted amounts, Reilly said) released include in order:
*Invitrogen Corporation — 7,886 pounds;
*Trans-Tech, Inc. — 5,555 pounds;
*Tamko Roofing Products, Inc. — 1,904 pounds;
*Griffith Energy Services, Inc. — 1,245 pounds;
*Essroc Cement Corporation — 1,055 pounds;
*McCormick Paint Works Company — 500 pounds;
*Lehigh Cement Company — 311 pounds; and
*BP Solar International, LLC — 20 pounds.
Both Invitrogen and Trans-Tech did not return repeated phone calls.
Looking at these numbers, McIntire says residents should not be alarmed. He points out that in Baltimore City alone there are several major power plants and industries that release much higher amounts of toxic chemicals.
But for the residents that live near the plants in Frederick any release of chemicals is a concern.
“I’m very concerned,” said Patricia Zimmerman, who lives on a 110-acre farm on Ballenger Creek Pike in Adamstown. “The list of chemicals is a combination of what we breathe. It’s kind of scary. We don’t know what the combinations are.”
Zimmerman’s farm is near Eastalco, Tamko Roofing and the Essroc Cement Company. “We’re surrounded,” she said.
For 32 years, Zimmerman said she has fought Eastalco over her concerns that the company is releasing toxic chemicals.
“It started in 1972, when the cows started acting up,” she said. “We thought it was the fluoride.”
According to information released by the Environmental Protection Agency, hydrogen fluoride, the primary chemical released at Eastalco can cause respiratory damage to humans.
Acute inhalation can cause irritation to the eyes, nose and upper and lower respiratory tract, along with a sore throat, cough, chest tightness and wheezing.
Eastalco is located on Manor Woods Road and near several residential properties.
Resident Kathleen Cline, insists she has never had health problems living near Eastalco.
“I’ve lived here about 17 years and I feel OK,” Cline said. I’m fine.”
Eleanor Wilt, who did say she was notified about the report, has lived near the plant since 1949.
Like Cline, she too has had no problems. “I’ve never had any problems,” she said.
Staff Writer Angela Pfeiffer contributed to this report.