Report: Hamilton County among most polluted in U.S. - Cincinnati News, FOX19-WXIX TV

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Report: Hamilton County among most polluted in U.S.

The American Lung Association’s 2016 “State of the Air” report lists Hamilton County as the 22nd worst for year-round particle pollution. (FOX19 NOW Photo/Jody Barr) The American Lung Association’s 2016 “State of the Air” report lists Hamilton County as the 22nd worst for year-round particle pollution. (FOX19 NOW Photo/Jody Barr)
The EPA’s TRI shows the total amounts of toxic pollution from corporations inside Hamilton County reached 20,669,845 pounds in 2014. (FOX19 NOW Photo/Jody Barr) The EPA’s TRI shows the total amounts of toxic pollution from corporations inside Hamilton County reached 20,669,845 pounds in 2014. (FOX19 NOW Photo/Jody Barr)
HAMILTON COUNTY, OH (FOX19) -

Hamilton County is the 22nd worst for year-round particle pollution, according to the American Lung Association’s 2016 “State of the Air” report. 

The latest Toxics Release Inventory report from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency shows most of the air pollution in the Tri-State is produced by power plants along the Ohio River.

The EPA’s TRI shows the total amounts of toxic pollution from corporations inside Hamilton County reached 20,669,845 pounds in 2014. Those air emission toxins include: sulfuric acid, hydrocloric acid, ammonia, carbonyl sulfide, certain glycol ethers and a a group of chemicals listed as "other" in the report.

The water toxins include: nitrate compounds, manganese compounds, ammonia, manganese, copper compounds and "other," the TRI report shows.

Those are the latest numbers released by the EPA in March. The agency has not released pollution numbers for 2015 as of this report.

All of the pollution is permitted, tracked and approved by the state of Ohio and the U.S. EPA. The pollution totals in the TRI report do not indicate any of the corporations listed have violated any of the permitting parameters that allow the pollution releases.

We analyzed the pollution numbers for the counties in our viewing area to find out who’s releasing the pollution, where it’s going and the impacts on the public.

See who’s releasing pollutants in your community. [Mobile users click here]

See the latest EPA report by clicking this link.

OHIO, INDIANA RANKED IN TOP 5 OF NATION’S WORST

The EPA report shows Ohio is ranked fifth out of 56 states and territories for total pollution releases per mile. Indiana is ranked second out of 56.

In the counties that make up the Tri-State television viewing area, the EPA reported 20,669,845 pounds of pollutants released into the air, water, land and landfills in 2014. Statewide, the TRI shows Ohio has 1,373 facilities that report to the EPA.

Hamilton County is home to 94 of those, more than any other county in the state. The second-highest number of TRI facilities are in Summit County with 63.

But, the highest pollution totals are out of Adams County, according to the latest TRI report. The report shows 4,768,115 pounds of pollution released into the environment in 2014. That pollution came from Dayton Power and Light’s J.M. Stuart Station and Killen Station power plants, according to the report.

We requested an on camera interview with Dayton Power and Light’s communications staffer, Debbie Carity, who declined to provide someone to discuss the pollution figures with FOX19 NOW. Carity later sent this statement, citing data showing nationwide reductions in chemical pollutants, “DP&L has also been able to report significant decreases in releases of TRI chemicals over the last decade.  This has been primarily due to reduced air emissions following the installation of flue gas desulfurization technologies at J.M Stuart Station and Killen Station. In addition, our O.H. Hutchings Station ceased operations in 2013.”

The second-highest pollution release numbers are out of Hamilton County with 4,005,942 pounds dumped in 2014, according to the EPA. The largest polluter is the Dynegy Miami Fort power plant, the TRI shows.

In 2014, when the TRI report was generated, Duke Energy owned the facility. The plant is now owned by Houston, TX-based Dynegy, Inc. We asked for an on camera interview with the company, but Dynegy public relations director, Micah Hirschfield denied the request to have someone available to answer questions regarding the company’s pollution numbers.

In a statement, Hirschfield wrote, “The Miami Fort Power Station is a good and compliant environmental steward…Dynegy and the plant’s previous owners have invested millions in environmental controls in recent years toward lowering emissions at the facility. NOx, SO2, and HCL emissions along with particulate matter have all decreased by more than 70 percent due to the environmental controls and scrubbers that have been put into place. The Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) does not reflect the numerous environmental improvements Miami Fort has made to remain environmentally compliant with increasingly stringent requirements and a positive asset for the Cincinnati area.”
 
The EPA’s report ranks the top five polluters for each county. The second highest pollution totals for Hamilton County in the latest report belongs to Procter and Gamble. The company’s “Cincinnati Plant,” located on Spring Grove Avenue reported dumping 183,221 pounds of pollutants in the latest TRI report.

All but 925 pounds of P&G’s Cincinnati Plant’s 183,221 pounds of pollutants were pushed out into the air, the EPA report shows.

P&G spokesman, Jeff LeRoy, declined requests to participate in an on camera interview for this investigation. Instead, LeRoy sent FOX19 NOW this statement, “Importantly, the reported emissions for our site in the TRI database are in compliance with all federal, state, and local environmental regulations.”

LeRoy went on to explain that “95% of our emissions reported on the TRI come from the burning of coal. P&G and our campus partners have made the investment to convert to 100 percent natural gas which eliminates the coal burning and permanently eliminates these emissions. This conversion took place in early April.”

POWER PLANT POLLUTERS V. NON-POWER PLANT POLLUTERS

In examining the Toxics Release Inventory, two categories of polluters emerge, based on the amounts of pollutants: power plants versus non-power plant corporations. We’ve broken the polluters listed in the Tri down into the highest levels of pollutants released.

POWER PLANTS:

Below is the ranking of the top five highest levels of pollutants released by power plants inside the Cincinnati television viewing area, based on the latest Toxics Release Inventory report:

  • Duke Energy (Dynegy) Miami Fort, LLC (Hamilton County): 3,603,648 pounds
  • Dayton Power and Light: J.M. Stuart Station (Adams County): 3,469,460 pounds
  • Duke Energy Zimmer Station (Clermont County): 2,547,800 pounds
  • American Electric Power Tanners Creek Plant (Dearborn County): 2,546,948
  • Spurlock Power Station (Mason County, KY): 2,502,345

 NON-POWER PLANT POLLUTERS: 

  • AK Steel (Butler County): 982,096 pounds
  • Carmeuse Lime and Stone Maysville (Mason County, KY): 2,502,345
  • Carmeuse Lime and Stone Black River Facility (Pendleton County, KY): 396,713
  • Nucor Steel (Gallatin County, KY): 313,916
  • Procter and Gamble Cincinnati Plant (Hamilton County): 183,221

 The top non-power plant polluter in the latest TRI report is AK Steel’s Middletown plant in Butler County. The EPA report shows the company dumped 982,096 pounds of pollutants in 2014: 82,063 pounds of pollutants were released into the air, another 91,727 was dumped into the water, and another 808,306 pounds were taken off the AK Steel property for disposal.

AK Steel’s public communication manager, Lisa Jester, declined to participate in an on camera interview with FOX19 NOW to answer questions related to the company’s pollution totals. Jester emailed a statement to us on May 9:

“The vast majority of the reported amount is non-hazardous waste which is properly disposed of in accordance with EPA regulations.  Nearly all of this waste is generated as a result of operating EPA-mandated air pollution control equipment.

AK Steel is committed to operating in an environmentally responsible manner, including complying fully with all applicable environmental laws and regulations.  As with every other part of our business, we strive for continuous improvement environmentally.”
 
POLLUTION COST TO TAXPAYERS

“It was a wakeup call that we needed some additional protection from accidental spills or additional discharges into the Ohio River,” Greater Cincinnati Water Works’ Barry Whitteberry told FOX19 NOW.

Whitteberry’s talking about a 1977 chemical spill in West Virginia that sent carbon tetrachloride down the Ohio River and into Cincinnati’s water supply.

“Up until 1992, we didn’t have (carbon filters) in Cincinnati,” Whitteberry said. Installing the filters cost Cincinnati taxpayers $60 million dollars and the filters are still in use today.

"This will really serve as a protective barrier for us,” Whitteberry said, referring to the city’s daily use of 12 carbon filters. The carbon filters and 47 sand filters are the main protectors for the city’s drinking water supply, Whitteberry said.

The “bulk of the filtering” goes to sort out natural debris, Whitteberry explained, but acknowledged a large part of the city’s water treatment efforts goes into filtering out industrial pollutants from corporations east of the city.

The city performs checks every two hours at the city’s intake, which sits in the Ohio River near the Kellogg Avenue and Interstate 275 intersection.

“Even though the (water) quality is very good, we still need to protect against those types of situations,” Whitteberry said.

POLLUTION WATCHDOGS: MORE REGULATION NEEDED

"The river needs to be taken better care of,” Ohio River Foundation Director Rich Cogen told FOX19 NOW investigative reporter Jody Barr, “We need to look at who’s discharging what into the river.”
 
Cogen’s group works to educate students on the pollution problems that plague the Ohio River, where that pollution goes and ways to help clean it up. Cogen is a former assistant City of Cincinnati solicitor and handled environmental law for the city.

Cogen points to the proof the problems with the pollution being dumped into the river and put into the air around it surfaced last summer. That’s when the Great Ohio River Swim and the annual Ohio River Sweep was cancelled because of algae blooms.

“If we didn't have high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus in the river--that would not have occurred,” Cogen told FOX19 NOW. Cogen attributes the cause of the blooms to the pollution totals detailed in the EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory.

“We really need to hold certain industries and regulators accountable for what they’re doing to this river, other rivers and impacting public health,” Cogen said.

Cogen acknowledged the total amount of pollution dumped directly into the Ohio River and put into the air around it has been reduced, but thinks state and federal regulators could do more to drive those amounts down further.

"We’ve got some of it out, but not all of it. And, when you’re talking about millions of pounds of different types of chemicals getting into this river, it’s raising a lot of concern in public health officials and scientists as to what impact it’s having now and in the future,” Cogen said.
 
EPA SILENT ON ITS OWN REPORT

On April 25, we contacted the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s offices in Chicago, requesting an interview for this investigation. We were interested in the regulatory elements of the Toxics Release Inventory and wanted the government’s perspective on the pollution amounts detailed in the TRI.

The Tri-State is covered by the EPA’s Region 5 offices, which are located in Chicago. That’s also where the staffers who manage and compile the TRI report are housed, according to Rachel Bassler, the Region 5 public relations staffer.

In the April 25 phone call, we asked to have the EPA provide someone for an on camera interview. Bassler emailed FOX19 NOW on April 27, telling us the agency was “still working to find someone for your request.” Bassler, who would later be out of the office for a week, passed our request along to another staffer to find an EPA staffer for the interview.

On May 2, EPA press office staffer Francisco Arcaute contacted us to say he’s taking over our April 25 request for an interview. We informed Arcaute that we’d make the trip to Chicago to conduct the interview.

Arcaute, who assured us he’d work to find someone for us to interview, wrote back in an email on May 2, stating: “Let me talk to my management.”

As of this report, we have not received a response from the EPA.

Since Feb. 1, we made multiple requests with the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission for on camera interviews. ORSANCO is the taxpayer-funded agency charged with monitoring pollution and its impacts on the Ohio River. ORSANCO is based in Cincinnati.

After several email and phone conversations with ORSANCO spokeswoman, Julie Cochran, the agency agreed to an on camera interview with one of the agency's pollution regulation experts and set the time for 2 p.m. May 9. Nearly five hours before the interview, Cochran called FOX19 NOW with a stipulation: provide our questions in writing or the agency would not participate in an on camera interview for this investigation.

ORSANCO would, according to Cochran, participate in a phone interview without us providing questions. ORSANCO wanted the exact questions written down and for us to ask only what we provided to the agency in writing, otherwise Cochran said she'd cancel the on camera interview.

We could not grant ORSANCO its demands and we were unable to interview the agency for this investigation.

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