Georgia-Pacific Crossett reached a settlement with the Environmental Protection Agency last week for alleged violations of the Clean Air Act that followed a 2015 inspection.
The settlement requires the company to address the violations, implement a $2.5 million hydrogen sulfide emission mitigation project — a step that is already completed — and pay $600,000 in civil penalties.
Three supplemental projects to further control hydrogen sulfide emissions — which will in turn reduce the odor resulting from the company’s processes — are part of the settlement. The additional projects will cost almost $2 million, a news release from the EPA said.
Hydrogen sulfide is a suphuric gas that causes an odor similar to rotten eggs, which in higher concentrations can cause ear, nose and throat irritations, headache, dizziness, nausea and other symptoms.
Mike Hohnadel, the vice president of manufacturing at Crossett Paper Operations at Georgia-Pacific, said the company was happy to reach the settlement.
“It is closure,” he said . “We have been waiting for a while to get to this.”
The process started in 2015, when an EPA inspection found two wood pulp washers at the GP Crossett facilities did not properly control emissions. Hohnadel said the company had self-reported that it was not in compliance with its permits, but he did not know if that was what initially triggered the EPA visit.
The company had to find a way to capture the non-condensible gasses that resulted from the processes — which in this case included sulphur — and find leaks in the system. GP also had to improve the process of the breakdown and burning off of those gasses.
“That is the work we accomplished,” Hohnadel said. “We were done with that work to the existing equipment processes by the end of 2016 and have been working to get to final terms on both sides.”
The supplemental projects that were included in the settlement followed emissions studies that the EPA conducted in early 2017, when the agency installed hydrogen sulfide monitors on the GP properties and around the community.
“All those extra monitors helped us have some breakthroughs in hydrogen sulfide generation,” Hohnadel said. “We have been looking for hydrogen sulfide at the mill, but it is out there at the water treatment.”
The process that generates hydrogen sulfide can be offset by oxygen, but in the process of pumping the wastewater from the plant to wastewater treatment, not enough oxygen was being preserved in the water, he said.
In addition to finding a way to collect some of the sulphur so that it can be reused in the mill, the company found that adding an oxygen injector into the system can reduce the hydrogen sulfide emissions from wastewater treatment, which can be unpleasant even if they are not noxious.
“To get here (to the settlement), you have to close those gaps, and we did,” Hohnadel said. “Going further, on the odor side, that feels good. I am tickled pink that we had that breakthrough. The EPA helped us by putting those monitors in and us learning from them.”
The company had to get variances for its previously issued air quality permits to address the issue, because the permits as issued required the company to operate in the way that caused the problems, Hohnadel said.
The company has been without a reportable hydrogen sulfide violation since April 15, 2017.
The settlement’s requirements include that the company will set up air-quality monitoring along its fence lines and that the data will be available to the public in real time.
The settlement is not final. It is still subject to public comment and court review. The full consent decree can be read online at bit.ly/2QFHKPw.
GP Crossett Spokeswoman Jennifer King said a local public hearing about the matter will be scheduled at a later date. The hearing will be in Crossett, she said.