Plantowners Ponder EPA Pollution Probe

Thu July 15, 2004 - National Edition

COLUMBUS, OH (AP) A U.S. Environmental Protection Agency pollution investigation of asphalt companies, which mix crude oil and gravel to make road-building materials, has expanded to include two plants in Illinois.

The agency has ordered pollution tests and company records from both Illinois plants, as well as plants in Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota and Ohio, reported The Columbus Dispatch July 5. Two Columbus asphalt companies received similar orders earlier this year.

While the agency hasn’t discussed the investigation publicly, the EPA said earlier that demands for internal records are the first official steps taken when it suspects Clean Air Act violations.

The EPA, in letters to the plants, sought new air-emission tests for soot, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide and volatile organic compounds, said the Dispatch. The companies must provide information about modifiers put into liquid asphalt and about the fuel burned to keep asphalt from hardening.

Plant owners and the industry’s trade association said they didn’t know the reason for the EPA directives and questioned the cost.

“I’m one of 200 or so plants in Illinois,” said Stephen Kennedy, vice president of Rock Road Cos., which runs a plant in Rockford. “I’m wondering why I’m doing this and my competitors are not.”

There are more than 1,100 asphalt companies nationwide, many with several operating plants.

Bill Omohundro, a U.S. EPA spokesman, would not comment about the expanded investigation, the newspaper said.

Alvin Evans, chief operating officer for J.H. Rudolph & Company Inc. in Evansville, IN, said he was asked to test for things the state doesn’t require. He said Indiana requires estimates of volatile organic chemicals, nitrogen oxides and sulfur emissions.

“We’ve asked for an extension of the time period we’ve been given,” Evans said.

According to the The Dispatch article, the other companies facing directives from the EPA were Chester Bross Construction in Loraine, IL; Central Specialties Inc. in Alexandria, MN; Ajax Materials Corp. of Warren, MI; and Barrett Paving Materials Inc. of Fairborn, OH.

Gary Fore, vice president of environment and safety for the National Asphalt Pavement Association, called the letters unprecedented and said his group would discuss them with the EPA. Fore said the industry has worked for 10 years with the EPA on studies that show asphalt plants are not major sources of pollution.

Theresa Mills, director of the Buckeye Environmental Network, said neighbors began to complain about asphalt plants in Ohio around 2000. Mills suspects complaints might be linked to the used oil some plants burn as fuel or new modifiers put in the asphalt.