Experts Urge State to Delay Approval of St. Lawrence Cement Project

NEW YORK (July 12, 2001) - To protect the health of Hudson Valley residents, two former regulatory officials are urging the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to delay approval of the St. Lawrence Cement Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS). In a letter sent on June 21, 2001 to Governor Pataki's Assistant, John Cahill, and submitted for the record to Administrative Law Judge Helene Goldberger, these environmental experts contend that the DEIS does not adequately analyze fine particulate matter (PM) the plant will emit and that pose risks to the public.

The former Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) for the State of Maine, Ned Sullivan, and the former Chairman of The New York State DEC Commissioner's Advisory Board on Operating Requirements for Municipal Waste Combustors, Dr. Allen Hershkowitz, urged DEC Administrative Law Judge Helene Goldberger to delay approval of the DEIS for the St. Lawrence Cement project (now under consideration for a site in Greenport, Columbia County) until the applicant develops a scientifically valid method acceptable to both the DEC and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to assess the project's potential PM2.5 impacts.

Overwhelming scientific evidence has established that pollution associated with industrial and mobile emissions of very fine particulate matter (PM) constitutes a major public health threat. As a consequence, the EPA adopted a National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS) for PM2.5 (particle matter with a diameter as low as 2.5 microns) in July 1997. This regulatory action by EPA withstood an industry challenge and was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in February of this year.

According to Mr. Sullivan, who served as Commissioner of Maine's DEP from 1995 to 1999 and currently serves as President of Scenic Hudson, Inc. "DEC must assure that PM2.5 limits are appropriately factored in the project's design and permits. Delaying approval of the DEIS until such assurance can be validated is an essential regulatory approach that will help DEC determine that the public's health is adequately protected."

According to Dr. Hershkowitz, who served in his position with the DEC from 1984 through 1987 and is now a Senior Scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council, "The significant health threats posed by fine particles are well known. Indeed, particles were among the very first substances to be regulated by the EPA following passage of our nation's original Clean Air Act. The applicant itself in this matter has recognized the potential adverse health impacts associated with fine particles and, in Appendix H of the DEIS, reported the results of its attempt to carry out a PM2.5 analysis. However, the applicant did not rely on a validated regulatory method to perform this analysis-it merely assumed that a portion of the project's larger PM10 emissions are tiny inhalable PM2.5 emissions -- and this is what we are now urging DEC to correct."

Because of delays resulting from industry's legal challenge to EPA's PM2.5 regulation, neither the Federal Agency or the State DEC has yet put into operation a validated scientific method to accurately assess PM2.5 emissions and impacts. EPA has indicated that it expects it's testing protocol to be issued next year.

In making this call, each of the former regulatory officials is drawing on professional regulatory experiences addressing air emissions which pose a threat to the environment and public health. In their former positions Mr. Sullivan and Dr. Hershkowitz were obligated to review impacts analyses, regulatory approaches and permitting procedures for combustion units similar to the type being proposed for use at the St. Lawrence Cement project.

Technical Background

In the mid-1990s the EPA found that adverse health effects of PM2.5 occur at ambient concentrations at least as low as an annual average of 9 micrograms per cubic meter (µg/m3). These adverse effects include increased risk of mortality, especially for individuals with cardiovascular or pulmonary disease increased respiratory symptoms and decreased lung function in children and asthmatics, and increased hospitalization for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

In July 1997, the EPA issued new air quality criteria for PM2.5. The EPA adopted a long-term annual standard of 15 µg /m3 and a 24-hour standard of 65 µg /m3. Recently, on January 18, 2001, the EPA reiterated the inadequacy of the current PM10 standard:

The general internal consistency of the epidemiological data base and available findings have led to increasing public health concern, due to the severity of several studied endpoints and the frequent demonstration of associations of health and physiological effects with ambient PM levels at or below the current PM10 NAAQS. The weight of epidemiologic evidence suggests that ambient PM exposure has affected the public health of US populations.

Therefore, compliance with PM10 standards does not obviate the critical need to study the impact of PM2.5 emissions associated with a project.

The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, non-profit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has more than 500,000 members nationwide, served from offices in New York, Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco.