The Hynix computer chip plant in west Eugene released more air pollution than it was allowed to in 2006 under its permit. But local air quality regulators say the company had been trying since last July to get its permit level raised. That process has just taken longer than anyone anticipated, officials with the company and the Lane Regional Air Protection Agency said Tuesday.
The agency plans this week or next to issue a decision on Hynix’s request to raise its annual limit on hydrogen fluoride emissions to 5 tons, up from 1.8 tons, said permit writer Doug Erwin.
The EPA considers hydrogen fluoride a hazardous air pollutant. In large doses, it can irritate skin, eyes and the respiratory tract, and affect the health of plants and animals.
Sometime in the next two weeks, the air authority also plans to send Hynix a notice of violation and penalty for violating its existing permit, Erwin said.
Lengthy process or not, Hynix neighbor Fred Hamlin, who raises prize-winning llamas on his ranch about a mile from the plant, said he’s disappointed in Hynix and the air protection agency.
“When (air regulators) were notified in March ’07 that Hynix was out of compliance, all they had to do is pick up the phone and say, `Hynix, get back into compliance,’ ” he said. “They both have violated the trust of the people of Lane County.”
Hynix and air agency officials said the higher emission levels posed no health or environmental threat.
“We didn’t see an impact to the environment or to people, so there was no sense of urgency from our end to cut back the way we were doing our business at that time,” Hynix spokesman Bobby Lee said.
Under its existing permit, Hynix can emit up to 1.8 tons of hydrogen fluoride in 2007. The company figured air regulators would agree to raise the emissions cap before the company hit the 1.8- ton maximum, Lee said.
In a letter dated July 12, 2006, Hynix notified the air agency that it was coming up against the maximum emissions allowed for the year both because it had increased production and because the way emissions are calculated had changed. The company said it wanted to apply to raise the cap.
In its 2006 annual report, filed with the local air agency in March 2007, Hynix reported hydrogen fluoride emissions of 2.06 tons a year, about 15 percent more than the permitted level.
Having a company exceed the levels in its permit “is fairly unusual,” Erwin said.
“It isn’t something we want to see happen – that anybody wants to see happen,” he said.
This is Hynix’s first air permit violation, Erwin said. The air agency considered that and other factors, such as Hynix’s attempts to try to correct the problem by applying for a higher emissions cap, when the agency applied its rules to calculate a penalty of $800.
The air agency determined on May 4 that a notice of violation and penalty were warranted, according to an internal agency memo.
It has taken the agency more than two months to issue the notice and fine because “we wanted to make sure we had exhaustively gathered all the facts,” Erwin said.