GrafTech's emission stacks, above, will be busier. The EPA has approved a 43% increase in the annual amount of carbon monoxide (CO) the corporation can emit from its Lakewood facility.
GrafTech International is increasing production of its heat-dissipating graphite material to meet increased demand from high-tech electronics manufacturers of televisions, computers, and cell phones.
The move will add 25 to 30 new positions this year to the Parma-based corporation’s production facility at the corner of Madison Ave. and W. 117th St., where 110 people are now employed, according to Betsy Keck, GrafTech’s global communications manager. A Plain Dealer article from last July suggested the jobs would pay at least $20 an hour.
GrafTech plans on installing four graphite rolling lines and 12 natural gas-powered graphite induction furnaces. It will also restart its west acid treatment system.
Keck, in a simplified explanation of the production process, said raw graphite flake – basically pure carbon – is put through a series of process steps that ultimately produces graphite material in very thin continuous rolls.
While the creation of good-paying jobs is obviously a welcome development, there is a catch. The production expansion has the potential to increase air pollution emissions from the factory to levels not seen in more than 20 years.
Aggregate Releases of TRI Chemicals to the Air: This bar chart summarizes the reported annual releases of a toxic chemical from the facility through air emissions. Please note that all release amounts are reported in pounds. The releases are estimated as a range, and the mid-point of the range is used in these calculations. Source: Ohio EPA
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s toxic emission and inspection records, air pollution emissions from the plant in 2009 were at least 1,431 pounds, near a 20-year low. Pollution from the plant dropped off sharply in the mid-1990s. It emitted at least 75,454 pounds of pollution in 1987.
A public meeting to discuss the pollution situation was held April 14th in the basement of the Madison Branch of the Lakewood Public Library.
Present were 10 members of the EPA, two representatives from GrafTech, and a single member of the public. Absent were all Ward 4 residents, where the facility is located, including Ward 4 Councilperson Mary Louis Madigan, who was also a no-show at a concurrently held public meeting at city hall regarding the nuisance appeal of a building in her ward.
EPA officials explained the permit-to-pollute, which has received staff approval, would boost GrafTech’s ability to emit certain air pollutants by 33% overall, including a 43% increase in carbon monoxide emissions.
|| Current Limit
(There are 2,000 pounds in one ton)
Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless, poisonous gas produced when fossil fuels are burned. The majority of CO pollution comes from automobile emissions.
CO is the frequent cause of illnesses and accidental deaths when poorly ventilated fuel burning devices like kerosene heaters and cooking units emit gases into enclosed living spaces.
It is far less dangerous when released in an uncloistered outdoor environment. However, it does contribute to the creation of smog and low levels of CO can be harmful to certain people with cardiovascular problems, according to an EPA report on the pollutant.
GrafTech’s tentative new pollution emission limits will comply with all state and federal regulations. In addition, the equipment will be tested to ensure it conforms to projections.
The economics of carbon monoxide pollution control
Pollution control technology exists that would considerably lessen the amount of CO emitted by GrafTech. Unfortunately, research conducted as part of the permit process by GrafTech’s consultant using EPA parameters found the devices to be cost prohibitive
To control emissions in the absence of stringent pollution removal devices, the EPA has prohibited GrafTech from producing more than 529 batches of material annually. The company does not expect to run at that batch rate during the first year of production, according to Keck.
The data provided within GrafTech’s pollution draft permit is a little tricky to interpret. The cost effectiveness of a pollution control device is determined by calculating how much it costs to eliminate a single ton of pollution. For purposes of calculation, the production schedule assumes the equipment will be in use every single hour over the course of an entire year.
In reality, GrafTech’s equipment will not function with such frequency. The Total Annual Cost column in the charts below isn’t relevant and can be ignored. The key item in measuring the financial feasibility of a pollution control device is the Cost/Ton of Pollutant Removed column.
Generally speaking, air pollution control devices that remove emissions at a cost of $10,000 or more per ton are considered too expensive to use.
Four New Graphite Rolling Lines
Without any pollution control device, each of the four graphite rolling lines has the capacity to generate almost 78 tons of CO emission per year. The addition of a pollution control device (recuperative thermal oxidizer, in this case) lessens CO emissions by 95% to about 5 tons per year.
Since it is estimated to cost only $4,235 to remove each ton of CO pollution, the control device is considered cost effective and must be used per the EPA.
12 New Graphite Furnaces
Each of the 12 graphite furnaces has the potential to emit about 29 tons of CO pollution per year. Two of the three different potential emission control devices would eliminate 95% of the CO pollution. The third device would eliminate 72% of emissions.
A regenerative thermal oxidizer, the most effective control device, would remove 27 of the 29 tons of emissions at $11,423 per ton per graphite furnace.
Due to its expense, the EPA did not consider the device to be cost effective, or mandate its use. To mitigate pollution emissions, the EPA instead limits the use of the furnaces to 529 yearly batches of production.
Each furnace will have a scrubber to control sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions.
Restarted West Acid Treatment System
The restarted natural gas-powered west acid treatment system will have the capacity to emit about 85 tons of CO annually. The lowest cost and most efficient of the three possible pollution control devices would eliminate 95% of the CO emissions at a cost of $11,862 per ton. Again, due to the expense involved, the EPA did not believe the device was cost effective and did not mandate its use.
The system will have scrubbers to control sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions.
Will GrafTech be a good corporate citizen?
The GrafTech facility has been a part of the city since its inception one hundred years ago. GrafTech, then known as the National Carbon Co. and later as Union Carbide, played a key role in the development of Birdtown and today remains a visible presence in the neighborhood.
It employs a good number of people, appears to take decent care of its property – and soon, will have the potential to be the city’s worst corporate air polluter at a level not seen in decades. That last fact puts it in a category of its own and means it has an obligation to go above and beyond a basic, minimal level of community support and involvement.
Certainly, there are much larger polluters in the county who emit pollutants more damaging than carbon monoxide. Nevertheless, a smart first step for GrafTech, which Keck said “endeavors to be a strong community partner,” would be to make a significant contribution to the city’s reforestation fund.
For a donation equal to the cost of reducing four tons of CO emission from one of its 12 new graphite furnaces, GrafTech could match the city’s $46,000 annual reforestation fund, off-set some of the environmental damage it causes, and begin the process of becoming a stronger community partner.