Biomass plant problems at Nippon disrupt air monitoring schedule in Port Angeles

By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — The inability of Nippon Paper Industries USA to start up its upgraded cogeneration plant has made it impossible for the Olympic Region Clean Air Agency to take advantage of equipment installed to assess the plant’s boiler emissions from burning biomass, the state monitoring agency says.

The four optical particle counters that were removed recently from sites in Port Angeles and Sequim assessed particles of 2.5 microns and smaller but not as small as ultrafine particles, which are of particular concern to biomass-burn critics.

A micron is a millionth of a meter.

The particle counters — which are one of three kinds of monitors the agency uses — had been placed in Clallam County’s two urban areas as part of a saturation study to measure emissions created by burning biomass, or woody debris such as forest slash and bark from processed logs, and in response to citizens’ concerns over pollution from the plant.

Nippon manufactures telephone book paper and newsprint for newspapers including Peninsula Daily News.

Removal of the devices Thursday marked the end of a yearlong study of air quality and the imminence of a similar study in Port Townsend, Odelle Hadley, the agency’s senior air monitoring specialist, said Thursday.

The information will be evaluated to determine if a nephelometer at Stevens School should remain there or be moved. A nephelometer measures air quality based on light scatter, not particle size.

Information from particle counters that will be placed at Blue Heron Middle School and three other undetermined sites in Port Townsend will be evaluated to determine if the nephelometer at Blue Heron should be moved.

They also will be placed in Grays Harbor, Mason, Pacific and Thurston counties.

Still in place is temporary equipment in Port Angeles at Clallam County Fire District 2 headquarters at 102 E. Fifth St. that measures ultrafine particles, which are less than 0.1 micron, as part of the Clean Air Agency’s joint study with the University of Washington.

ORCAA has not decided if an ultrafine-particle study will be conducted in Port Townsend, agency Executive Director Fran McNair said Friday.

Ultrafine particles are known to cause health problems.

“Smaller particles penetrate deeper into lungs, heart and even brain to cause more health damage,” according to ORCAA’s description of the ultrafine particles at http://tinyurl.com/PDN-ultrafine.

A half-inch crack in Nippon’s cogeneration boiler has stalled the facility’s startup, delaying generation of steam for the mill and 20 megawatts for sale since late last year.

Mill manager Steve Johnson said last week he doesn’t know when the crack will be repaired.

Hadley said a goal of the ultrafine-particle study was to determine if the boiler emissions changed ultrafine particle concentrations in the region.

“We still hope to stay long enough to be able to capture all sources including the new cogeneration facility,” Hadley said.

“That’s why we have to wait and see what happens.”

The ultrafine-measuring device was installed in November.

It was to be moved in mid-summer to Port Townsend, where Port Townsend Paper Co. had planned to upgrade its own biomass plant in a $55 million project to generate 24 megawatts of electricity for steam for the paperboard mill and for sale.

But company president Roger Hagan told Peninsula Daily News last week that the company has cancelled the project, citing environmental challenges, competition from natural gas as a fuel compared to more expensive biomass and the expiration of federal tax incentives.

Hadley said that now, the agency might delay removing the ultrafine-measuring equipment in Port Angeles to get a good read on Nippon’s emissions once the cogeneration plant is up and running “in light of changes at Port Townsend Paper.”

Optical particle counters were moved Thursday from Stevens Middle School, the Port Angeles Library, Port Angeles-area Clallam County Fire District No. 2’s Port Angeles station, and Sequim-area county Fire District No. 3’s station on North Fifth Avenue.

They will be recalibrated before being transferred to Port Townsend in May for a similar yearlong study.

The Clean Air Agency will sponsor a meeting in May or June to discuss the test results for Port Angeles and Sequim, McNair said.

Hadley said preliminary results detected elevated levels of pollution in Sequim in August and the end of September that lasted a couple of days.

The increase may have been caused by construction activity linked to the current widening of U.S. Highway 101 west of Sequim, she said.

“I will look at wind directions and what was going on at that time, but it’s possible I might not be able to determine what that was,” she said.

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Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5060, or at pgottlieb@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: April 06. 2014 6:47PM
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