DEQ: Dominion plant pollution still OK

By Alex Bridges

An increase in air pollution from Dominion’s power plant in Warren County shouldn’t harm public health or the environment.

The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality recently issued a response to questions a Front Royal resident raised over Virginia Electric & Power Co.’s request to change the state permit for the facility. Front Royal posted the response on its website this week.

DEQ approved an amended air-emissions permit for the plant June 17 following a public hearing held on the request in May. The increased amount of pollutants — sulfur dioxide and sulfuric mist — allowed under the new permit did not represent a significant change in those levels, Janarden Pandey, air permit manager with DEQ, said Friday.

“We re-evaluated their request compared to what the original request was and based upon our evaluation I don’t think there were any additional requirements to be put on that,” Pandey said. “So we can see that will still meet our regulations and the air quality standards.”

Columbia Gas Transmission will supply the fuel to the plant via a new pipeline connected to an existing line. Data supplied by Columbia and gas samples collected near the plant site showed a wide range of sulfur content, many of which exceeded the levels in the original permit, according to a DEQ memo.

Construction on the plant is nearly complete after years of planning. DEQ issued the original air-emissions permit in December 2010. It’s common for a company to seek permit changes close to a project’s completion.

“We see this frequently because when they would originally apply for a permit they have to do it three, fours year before they even construct it,” Pandey said.

Dominion has asked that the state allow the plant to discharge 39.6 tons of sulfur dioxide and 30.57 tons of sulfuric mist per year from the site. The natural-gas-fired plant creates the chemicals through the oxidation of sulfur in the fuel burned by the facility.

High concentrations of sulfuric dioxide can inflame and irritate the respiratory system and aggravate existing heart disease, according to the DEQ. Those concentrations greatly exceed national air-quality standards developed by the Environmental Protection Agency to prevent ambient air from reaching these levels.

Exposure to sulfuric mist in an inadequately ventilated area can cause shortness of breath as well as irritation and burning of the eyes, skin, nose and throat. However, there are currently no air-quality standards set for sulfuric mist.

Applicants must prove that its emissions will not exceed the federal guidelines before the DEQ issues the Prevention of Significant Deterioration permit. The permitting program requires the plant to provide special protection to areas such as the Shenandoah National Park.

The resident asked how the DEQ tests a plant for compliance with the limits on sulfur dioxide and sulfuric acid mist. DEQ responded by stating that monitoring the amount of fuel used and its sulfuric content provides “a reliable indicator” that the plant complies with the emissions limits.

The permit calls for fuel monitoring, record keeping and reporting requirements, the DEQ states. The agency makes periodic, on-site inspections and reviews the records and reports to verify the plant complies with its permits.

Should the plant exceed its emissions limits, it could face a civil penalty by the DEQ and/or the EPA as well as a plan and schedule for preventing future violations.

Visit http://goo.gl/moCXuS for more information on air-testing companies. Contact Barry Brandon, air compliance inspector for DEQ, at 574-7894 or at Barry.Brandon@deq.virginia.gov.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com