Intel has begun negotiating new environmental safeguards with its Hillsboro neighbors and watchdog groups, and the company says it plans to reconvene a community advisory panel it disbanded six years ago.
Additionally, Intel has launched a new website that provides current information on greenhouse gasses, water consumption, electricity use and other environmental data about its Ronler Acres manufacturing campus.
The company is responding to blowback from residents and environmental organizations after the company acknowledged it failed to disclose fluoride emissions from its semiconductor factories in Washington County.
Though the company and state regulators maintain the fluoride did not represent a health hazard, and would have been legally permissible had Intel disclosed them, the oversight has tarnished the company’s image and created a regulatory nightmare.
The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality and Intel are working to untangle permitting decisions made without knowledge of the company’s fluoride emissions, and an environmental group has warned Intel that it plans to sue over the issue. That could, regulators and watchdogs say, trigger a short but expensive delay in operations and construction at Intel’s new D1X research factory at Ronler Acres.
It could also poison Intel’s relations with its neighbors. It’s a threat the company is closely attuned to, after years of combating negative perceptions of a factory in New Mexico, where neighbors there blame atmospheric emissions for an assortment of health problems. Intel has acknowledged being slow to respond to concerns there.
“We want to get out ahead of the Oregonians’ concerns in a way that reflects what we’ve learned from the New Mexico community,” said Jill Eiland, Intel corporate affairs manager.
Intel has a community advisory group in New Mexico that it meets with regularly, and had one in Oregon, too, until 2007. But the company disbanded it for lack of interest. Eiland said it will revive it to address fluoride concerns and to improve communication between Intel and its neighbors.
“We like the concept, and we’ve learned a lesson here,” Eiland said. “We’re going to re-institute a community advisory panel in Oregon.”
The advisory group starts meeting in January. Intel says it will choose “representatives from throughout the community (to) come together to engage in a dialogue about Intel’s operations in Oregon.”
Meanwhile, Intel has already begun meeting with residents who submitted comments on its air quality permit pending with the DEQ, and has put together a negotiating group with representatives from the community organizations Save Helvetia, Washington County Citizens Action Network and Neighbors for Clean Air.
“I think it’s important that we establish an ongoing relationship with Intel, between Intel and some community advisers,” said Linda Peters, a former Washington County commissioner who now leads the Washington County Community Action Network. She said residents are pushing for a commitment from Intel to reduce emissions and be transparent about its environmental impact.
“We want to be engaged with them in a way that we can help encourage that kind of management of their air emissions,” Peters said.
Ronler Acres, by the numbers
ExploreIntel.com, a company website, lists various operational data about Intel’s Ronler Acres manufacturing campus in Hillsboro. The website was in development before the current fluoride controversy emerged, paralleling similar sites Intel has developed for other locations.
Here’s a sampling of Ronler Acres activity in a 12-month period from mid-2012 to the middle of 2013:
1.574 billion gallons of water used. Chip manufacturers use water to clean silicon wafers between manufacturing steps. Intel’s use is equivalent to 10,781 homes.
Intel says conservation efforts save 315 million gallons a year.
931.3 million kilowatts of electricity used. That’s equivalent to 77,600 Northwest homes. Intel says efficiency measures save 2.5 million kilowatt hours a year.
33.3 tons of volatile organic compounds emitted. (VOCs are organic solvents used in cleanup.) Intel says its VOC emissions in Oregon are a quarter of what they were in the 1980s and ’90s.
134,825 tons of greenhouse gasses emitted.
Additionally, Intel says it recycles 93 percent of its solid waste and 83 percent of its chemical waste.