“Fluoride is unfortunately a bit of an oversight,” state environmental engineer George Davis told Hillsboro residents at a permit meeting this week. “It should have been in the permits in the past. We’re correcting that oversight now.”
Davis said the Department of Environmental Quality and Intel are both at fault. The state agency was not aware the company was emitting fluoride, but it’s something DEQ could potentially have caught if it knew to look for fluoride, he said. The company won’t receive a violation for the omission. Intel has not returned a request for comment.
“It’s a bad oversight, but it’s a correction, not a violation,” Davis said.
Amid concerns about Intel’s operation in New Mexico, where neighbors fear the company’s factory near Albuquerque contributes to respiratory disease, some Washington County residents are concerned about the company’s massive buildout. Intel is applying for a new air quality permit in Washington County that will increase its volatile organic compounds limit and add greenhouse gases and fluoride to its permit.
The second public hearing will be held in Hillsboro on Monday night. Residents can submit written comments to DEQ.
As part of its billion-dollar D1X expansion, the company plans to emit up to 6.4 tons of fluoride annually. That’s enough fluoride in a net calculation to be considered a “significant emission.”
To be clear, the company already has an air quality permit from DEQ. But greenhouse gases, which Intel emits in large quantities, were added to a list of regulated pollutants in 2011 and that prompted the company to seek a different type of air permit with DEQ.
Back up to 2010, when the company submitted its D1X building plans to DEQ and got approval. At that time, greenhouse gases were not a regulated pollutant. Now that those gases are regulated, Intel is considered a “federal major source,” a label that comes with extensive Environmental Protection Agency standards to prevent excess pollution.
But because Intel was approved for the buildout before it became a federal major source, D1X is not subject to the Prevention of Significant Deterioration program that goes with that classification.
When Intel applied for D1X approval, the company considered its fluoride emissions insignificant and did not include those. It was only when the company applied for the new DEQ permit required by greenhouse gas regulations that it requested a 6.4-tons-per-year fluoride emission limit.
Davis said it’s a valid community concern that the fluoride has gone unregulated for so long, but he doesn’t think it’s dangerous. Intel does use emission controls, he said.
“We do want to better understand the fluoride emissions and explain them,” Davis said of Intel. “We’re certainly not trying to ignore the questions people have raised.”
This story will be updated with additional comment. Check back this evening.