POCATELLO – Shoshone-Bannock tribal leaders say they oppose a rules change allowing J.R. Simplot to increase sample testing for fluoride emissions rather than requiring the company to monitor for them continuously.
During a public hearing the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality hosted Wednesday night at City Hall, Fort Hall Business Council Chairwoman Nancy Murillo, asked the DEQ to reinstate continuous fluoride monitoring.
Simplot spokesman Rick Phillips said technology doesn’t exist to effectively monitor fluoride continuously. He said Simplot and the DEQ assumed technology would progress to enable continuous fluoride monitoring, but it hasn’t, and taking samples, called stack testing, from Cooling Tower cells is the best available option.
The Wednesday hearing was scheduled to give the public a chance to comment on an agreement reached this summer between Simplot and the DEQ regarding Simplot’s operating permit, which is an umbrella document issued in 2002 that encompasses all of the requirements for Simplot.
The public comment period on the agreement closed Thursday. The DEQ will evaluate the comments, and the permit will stand if DEQ determines there are no major problems.
Simplot filed an appeal after the document’s release – Phillips said due to a few errors, language included that pertained to processes no longer done at Simplot and technical “housekeeping” issues – and worked with DEQ to resolve the differences.
Phillips said fluoride monitoring is an issue unrelated to the permit agreement, but public comments were accepted during the meeting on all topics relevant to Simplot.
According to Phillips, Simplot failed state fluoride standards in 2001 and 2002 at 2 of 15 test sites. Simplot commissions an independent source to do sampling of forage surrounding its Don Plant, located west of Pocatello near tribal land.
Phillips said fluoride levels in forage samples were all within guidelines in 2003 and 2004.
“Our fluoride emissions have continually gone down,” Phillips said.
Roger Turner, an environmental staff member with the tribes, said in July, however, the plant failed a stack test for fluoride emissions.
Tribal leaders worry their land could be impacted by excessive fluoride emissions without strict monitoring standards. During the public hearing, Murillo also voiced concerns that no sampling is being done on the reservation.
When fluoride becomes too concentrated in forage, it can damage the teeth of grazing animals.
“The tribes have expressed concern regarding fluoride contamination since early 1995,” Murillo said. “These concerns surround buffalo, cattle, horses and other livestock grazing in the Fort Hall bottoms.”
Phillips said throughout the 1990s, the land surrounding Simplot and the FMC site was studied thoroughly as part of the process of getting it designated as a superfund site, and the Environmental Protection Agency concluded the area had no wide-spread ecological effects related to fluoride and additional emission controls were not warranted.
Tribal leaders also asked to be more included in future discussions between Simplot and the DEQ.
Murillo said the tribes are scheduling a meeting with the DEQ to discuss several issues.
Phillips said, “They want to be able to weigh in and have some regulatory authority. We’re not very interested in more layers of regulatory authority. For years we’ve been regulated by DEQ.”
John O’Connell covers Pocatello city government and edits the Great Outdoors section for the Journal. He can be reached by calling 239-3128 or by e-mail at email@example.com.