It took more than two years for local air-pollution regulators to issue a permit for the Phoenix Brick Yard, but it took less than a week for opponents to lodge complaints.
The south-central Phoenix plant last week received a permit that regulates it as a major source of pollution. It’s the first time in the company’s nearly 90-year history of turning out bricks that it has been put under strict environmental controls.
But critics contend the Title V permit still allows the brickyard to churn out unacceptable levels of hydrogen fluoride, a byproduct of clay baking that is classified as a hazardous air pollutant.
Hydrogen fluoride can irritate the eyes and respiratory system, and, in heavy doses, can cause the lungs to swell.
The permit, which has been approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, allows the brickyard to emit up to 287 pounds a day of the pollutant. But that daily limit is calculated by averaging the plant’s daily output over a one-month period, which includes weekends and off-hours when production is not occurring.
The result is that in any given hour, people who work and live in and around the plant just north of the Maricopa Freeway west of Seventh Avenue may get exposed to more of the pollutant than state health guidelines recommend.
The permit itself acknowledges this apparent loophole, noting it would be possible to meet the daily limit while still exceeding health guidelines.
“The problem is the averaging,” said activist Steve Brittle, who has vowed to appeal the permit to the EPA. “The next time I get pulled over for speeding, I’m going to tell them I’m averaging my speed, and I’m doing 40 miles per hour instead of 90.”
Kate Graf, permit-division manager of Maricopa County’s Air Quality Department, said that since the state does not have rules for hazardous air pollutants, there’s no enforcement muscle for emissions such as hydrogen fluoride.
Still, the plant should stay within the state health guidelines because in addition to the daily limit of hydrogen fluoride, the brickyard has accepted limits on its daily production, Graf said.
The plant accepted the production limits to avoid a clean-air rule that would require some sort of pollution control, such as scrubbers on its smokestack, if production exceeded 10 tons a day. Brick Yard agreed to 9.9 tons a day of clay production.
The permit also controls the amount of volatile organic chemicals (which contribute to ozone pollution), sulfur dioxide, particulates and raw-clay materials which can be emitted from the brickyard.
Graf said the permit is good for five years.
Work on the permit began nearly three years ago, and the last public hearing on it was held in March 2003.
The brickyard’s permit was one of many backlogged in the county’s air-permit processing, leading to last fall’s creation of a separate air-quality department and, ultimately, to a threatened EPA takeover of the permitting operations.
Phoenix Brick Yard officials could not be reached for comment Friday.