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ARCHIVED  September 10, 1999

PRPA clean, but some questions remain

FORT COLLINS — The Platte River Power Authority received good news recently, when the Environmental Protection Agency released a report indicating that emissions from the power provider’s Rawhide Energy Station posed no significant risk to public health.

However, it will take a thorough analysis of the data by the state health department to fully assess the power plant’s environmental impact.

In July, PRPA made its first report on emissions released during 1998 from the Rawhide Energy Station.

The coal-burning energy station qualified for inspection in five areas. Three of the five — barium, manganese and zinc — are found in ash, a byproduct of burning coal. The other two — hydrochloric acid and hydrogen fluoride — are gas byproducts of burning coal and are dissipated through the chimney or “stack.”

“We have identified public exposure to the ash at Rawhide to be negligible,´ said Brian Moeck, Platte River’s general manager. “Studies by the EPA show that while power plants release high volumes of [toxic release inventory] substances, those substances present no significant risk to public health.”

The Toxic Release Inventory is part of the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act, passed in 1986. In general, the act affirmed the public’s right to know about the amounts, location and potential effects of hazardous chemicals present in the community. The TRI served as a reporting device with which to track more than 650 chemicals and chemical categories.

“One of the criticisms of the inventory is that it is heavy on data and light on analysis,´ said Kirk Mills, program coordinator for the Superfund Amendment and Reauthorization Act. “But even with the limitation of context, TRI has been successful in raising public awareness. As the saying goes, ‘What you measure, you treasure.'”

Originally, the Rawhide Energy Station was not included in the act’s list of covered industries. But in 1997, the EPA added the electric utility industry to the list of those required to report chemicals designated on the TRI.

Beginning in 1998, any utility that operated a coal- or oil-fired power plant that produced or processed more that 25,000 pounds per year of at least one designated substance on the TRI chemical list had to report its releases or transfers to air, land and/or water for each reportable chemical or mixture.

Most of the reportable chemicals at Rawhide are contained in large volumes of ash, said John Fooks, environmental affairs manager for PRPA.

“We burn two billion pounds of coal annually, and 99.96 percent of the solids are removed by Rawhide’s air-quality control equipment,” he explained. ” Looking at the energy station, you can’t tell if we are off line or at full load, except in the winter when there is water vapor. We are acknowledged as one of the cleanest coal-fired power plants in the United States.”

According to the announcement on TRI released by PRPA (available at www.prpa.org), the five reportable chemicals for Rawhide are all byproducts of burning coal Of these, only hydrogen flouride has been identified by the EPA as a hazardous substance.

However, in its “Study of Hazardous Air Pollutant Emissions from Electric Steam Generating Units,” the EPA also concluded that the amount of hydrogen flouride released into the air by power plants would never reach unhealthy levels at any location in the United States. Emission control devices at Rawhide remove 80 percent of the hydrofluoric acid aerosol from gases that go up the 505-foot-tall stack.

Of the other reported substances, manganese is not classified as a carcinogen, and zinc has not been found to cause cancer. Neither hydrochloric acid nor barium has been classified as to its human carcinogenicity.

Fooks pointed out that while the EPA has arrived at certain conclusions regarding the carcinogenic effects of the TRI substances, an assessment of the emissions’ impact has yet to be carried out in the public health arena.

“We rely on the state health department for that analysis,” he said. “They take the results and work with the data and decide if there is a health issue.”

Were the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to conclude that the data indicated a health issue, the next question would be “how do we control it?”

“Then we ask if there is already a control scheme in existence,” Fooks explained. “If there is, we use it. If there isn’t, we bring in an engineering company to create one. If we can’t create one? That’s another question.”

Fooks recalled that when TRI was first introduced, everyone in the state was running scared, and in fact some companies took a public-relations hit, including Adolph Coors Co., and in this region, Eastman Kodak Co., Colorado Division and the Metal Container Corp. According to the 1997 TRI report by the Colorado EPA, Kodak released high nitrate concentrations in its wastewater and high amounts of ammonia.

“As a result of the TRI, both Kodak and Coors have become very active in the Governor’s Challenge to prevent pollution,” he said. “And so, despite its limitations, the inventory has alerted companies that they should do something about their emissions. Companies pay fees based on the TRI, and that money goes to the pollution-prevention programs.”

Although Fooks acknowledged that none of the data from Rawhide have been analyzed yet, the utility looks like a clean operation relative to EPA standards. In fact, the power authority has been reporting emissions for many years under a process related to its air-pollution permits. Possibly because the authority is a local operation owned by the residents of Estes Park, Fort Collins, Longmont and Loveland, it has a long history of citizen involvement regarding environmental issues of all kinds.

The Rawhide site, 20 miles north of Fort Collins and three miles west of Interstate 25, was chosen in part for its geological features, which made it suitable for maintaining the cooling reservoir essential to the power plant. The site was also attractive because of its low population density, convenience to a rail line and proximity to Wyoming.

“All of our coal comes from Wyoming,” Fooks said. “It is sub-bituminous coal that has a very low sulfur content. With its flat seams, Wyoming coal is easy to strip mine and convenient to ship to Colorado.”

Kirk Mills pointed out that the TRI has had the effect of putting industrial polluters on notice. As a result, the majority of industries have significantly improved their emission standards over the last few years. And so why does a brown cloud still foul the air along the Front Range?

“It’s car emissions,” Mills said. “What we have gained in industrial reductions, we have lost to the ammonium nitrate and other gasoline exhaust emissions. That finding keeps people thinking about mass transit.

FORT COLLINS — The Platte River Power Authority received good news recently, when the Environmental Protection Agency released a report indicating that emissions from the power provider’s Rawhide Energy Station posed no significant risk to public health.

However, it will take a thorough analysis of the data by the state health department to fully assess the power plant’s environmental impact.

In July, PRPA made its first report on emissions released during 1998 from the Rawhide Energy Station.

The coal-burning energy station qualified for inspection in five areas. Three of the five — barium, manganese and zinc — are found in ash, a byproduct…

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