Residents and activists who turned out for a public hearing this week on the Phoenix Brick Yard’s air-pollution permit didn’t have kind words for the long-running operation.
The 11 people who offered formal testimony to Maricopa County air-pollution officials blamed the plant for harming their health, unleashing truck traffic in their south-central neighborhood and even for changing the color of a local church.
“I think you should have some consideration for the people in this neighborhood,” Ruby Cruz told county regulators. “It’s like the forgotten neighborhood around here.”
Cruz lives across Mohave Street from the brick yard, which has been operating at Seventh Avenue and Mohave for 67 years.
Cruz said she’s had to put up with dust emanating from the plant, with muddy residue deposited by truck tires, and with a strange odor.
“I have even called the police to find where it’s coming from,” Cruz said.
That odor is likely hydrogen fluoride, a hazardous air pollutant that is created when clay is fired into bricks.
The brick yard’s owners have agreed to trim their production by less than a half ton of clay per hour to lower the amount of hydrogen fluoride emissions. If the plant keeps that pollutant’s emissions to 287 pounds a day, it will not be subject to stricter controls, such as scrubbers on its smokestacks.
Steve Brittle, of the environmental activist group Don’t Waste Arizona, accused county officials of dodging federal regulations. He argued that tighter emissions controls have been in place since May.
But Steve Peplau, manager of the county’s air-quality division, said his hands were tied in terms of enforcing tighter controls on plant emissions. The federal rules are not finalized, leaving the county without guidance, Peplau said.
Brittle threatened a civil-rights lawsuit against the county if the brick yard is permitted to continue emitting hydrogen fluoride without any controls. He said the brick yard’s neighbors, who are predominantly minority and low-income, will be adversely affected by the plant’s output.
A decision on the plant’s permit should be made within a few months, Peplau said. The county is scrambling to finish processing 17 applications for major sources of air pollution by the end of the year.
Darvis Fellows, who has lived a few blocks away from the brick yard for 32 years, said the plant is in the wrong location.
“The urban area has outgrown a place like this,” Fellows said. “This is a half block – from Seventh Avenue to 11th Avenue – of pollution.”
Andrew Tademy said the brick yard’s emissions changed the color of the east side of the Lone Star Baptist Church, 1106 W. Apache. Church members would pressure-wash the building to restore the “bright white” color, to no avail, Tademy said.
Finally, the congregation gave up, and picked a new color that matched the stain, he said.
“We had to repaint the church because it had become a brownish color,” he said.
No one spoke in favor of the plant at the two-hour hearing.
Unlike many of those who testified, Maricopa County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox said she didn’t want to shut the plant down.
But, she said in an interview, the plant should have scrubbers or some other form of equipment to curtail emissions.
Wilcox questioned how county regulators would know that the plant is adhering to its voluntary production cap of 9.9 tons of clay processed per hour. Relying on the business’ records might not be sufficient, she said.
She and others pointed to the apparent records falsification done by operators of the Innovative Waste Utilization plant, a nearby operation that was shuttered last month in a drug raid.
“What, tonight, will you all be able to tell the community, given the mistrust IWU has brought to the community?” activist Michael Pops asked.