Belding residents comment on new Mueller Brass emissions permit

By Cory Smith • Last Updated 9:32 am on Friday, October 14, 2011

Chris Christensen of the DEQ Remediation Division answers questions about contaminated soil during a public forum at the Belding Schools Administration Building. (Daily News/Cory Smith)

BELDING — Elvis Preston has a unique view of the Mueller Brass lead pollution issue.
He works at the brass rod manufacturing plant at 302 Ashfield St. and lives so close he can walk to work — and in the lead contamination area east of the facility.
Preston was one of two people to make comments on the record Monday during a public hearing for residents to weigh in on a new air emissions permit for Mueller Brass.
The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) hosted the hearing at the Belding Area Schools Administration Building in conjunction with an update on clean up of contaminated soil in the neighborhood.
Both comments made Monday questioned the effectiveness of raising Mueller Brass’ chip dryer smokestacks to 122 feet from their current height of 30 feet.
Preston, who lives near the plant on Merrick Street, was not convinced raising the stack heights is enough to solve the problem of exceeded lead emissions.
“I don’t want to see this place go, but as someone who lives across the street I’ve looked at this not as an employee, but as a resident with a family and children,” Preston said. “If there’s pollution coming out of it, it should be stopped, not just controlled. I don’t think a higher stack is going to make a difference. It will just disperse emissions over a larger area.”
Jim Haywood, meteorologist for the DEQ Air Quality Division, said raising the stacks is not the perfect solution, but said it will help keep Mueller Brass below the limit of 0.15 milligrams per cubic meter of lead released into the air.
“We like to say dilution is not the solution,” Haywood said. “It’s more healthy, but it’s not the ideal situation. We want to see it diluted to a point where it is not harmful to human health and the new stack heights will help accomplish that.”
Mueller Brass submitted a permit to install application showing that the lead emissions from the facility will comply with the National Ambient Air Quality Standard for lead. To meet those standards, Mueller Brass has proposed to increase the height of the two chip dryer stacks to 122 feet and by operating an enhanced scrubber system for the chip dryers at their facility.
“Mueller Brass is the one that proposes how they are going to get back into compliance,” Environmental Engineer Mike Kovalchick said. “The company has proposed to increase the stack height to make sure they meet the standards. That was found to be an acceptable method to lower the levels of emissions.”
Mueller Brass must keep their lead levels below 0.15 milligrams per cubic meter. Since October 2010, Mueller has succeeded in staying within that accepted range.
In addition to the permit, the DEQ must enter into a consent order with Mueller Brass.
The consent order requires both parties to agree on the changes that must occur for Mueller Brass to continue operating without committing future violations. It is based on the DEQ agreeing on how Mueller Brass will go about resolving the alleged air quality violations.
A decision on both the permit and the consent order is expected to be made “within the next few weeks,” according to Vinson Hellwig, chief of the DEQ Air Quality Division. Hellwig is the lone decision maker for both the permit and consent order.

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