By JOHN FLOWERS
SHOREHAM — State officials and local environmental groups on Tuesday celebrated the premature end of a scheduled two-week test burn of tires in one of International Paper Co.’s (IP) boilers, a step company officials said they took when new data indicated the practice would not pay long-term financial dividends for the firm.
IP announced it was pulling the plug on the tire burn in a four-paragraph press release issued by company at 3:35 p.m. on Tuesday, five days into what had been a 14-day trial authorized by the New York Department of Environmental Conservation.
The decision ostensibly ends a three-year battle between the Ticonderoga-based mill and a variety of Vermont environmental groups and state officials, who had unsuccessfully lobbied state and federal courts to postpone the trial burn until IP had upgraded its pollution-control equipment.
In the end, IP officials on Tuesday determined that the mill’s current infrastructure and equipment would not allow for IP’s boiler to handle as much tire-derived fuel as they had hoped, while still remaining within its air quality permit standards. The company had to ramp down its tire chip loading twice during its five days of trial burning, when tests at the one-ton-per-hour level showed the mill’s emissions bumping up against its permit limits.
International Paper had hoped the trial burn would clear the way for the company to burn up to three tons of tire chips per hour in its Ticonderoga mill boiler, a move officials estimated could save IP around $4 million in annual fuel costs.
The mill, however, was never able to come close to the three-ton-per hour level during its five days of testing.
“Preliminary test data indicates that long-term use of tire-derived fuel would not be economically feasible at (this) time,” reads the IP press release.
That came as good news to Rich Carpenter, leader of Addison County-based People for Less Pollution (PLP). It’s a group that had voiced concerns that minute, toxic particulates in the tire-burn emissions might escape the IP stack and blow into Addison County.
“I’m delighted they decided to stop (the burn),” said Carpenter. “I’m glad the harmful emissions won’t be going on any longer.”
Groups like PLP and the Northeast Clean Air Coalition had reported hearing from dozens of residents in southern Addison County who had complained of experiencing respiratory ailments during the few days in which the trial burn was conducted.
Porter Hospital officials and Vermont Department of Health administrators said they could not confirm any abrupt up-tick in respiratory ailments that could be directly linked to the tire burn.
Middlebury-based pediatrician and PLP member Dr. Jack Mayer said his office had placed three area children at Fletcher Allen Health Care to get treatment for severe respiratory problems.
“I’m not saying there is a cause-and-effect relationship, but that is more children admitted to Fletcher Allen in a four-day period than I ever have” in the past, Mayer said.
Like Carpenter, Mayer was elated with the news that IP had stopped the tire burn.
“I couldn’t be more delighted and surprised,” Mayer said. “It’s a real victory for the people. It’s a good day for the Champlain Valley, and it’s a good day for clean air.”
State officials joined the chorus.
“For the last three years, I have strongly urged IP to install appropriate state-of-the-art pollution controls before any test burn was considered,” said Gov. James Douglas, a Middlebury Republican. “It is my hope now that IP will install such equipment, should it attempt any further use of tire-derived fuel.
“I pledged that I would hold IP accountable for the results of this test and I am pleased that they have finally made the right decision,” Douglas added.
“IP’s decision to abandon its test burn of tires is positive news, but we believe Vermonters should not have been subjected to these emissions in the first place,” reads a joint statement issued by Vermont’s congressional delegation. “It took IP a full week of test burning to learn what we have been telling them all along: the plant needs updated equipment before it burns tires for fuel. We remain extremely concerned that the available data suggest that pollution levels from the week-long burn approached the permitted limit and exceeded IP’s expected levels. If IP had not taken this action, the delegation was prepared to call on the EPA to shut down this test burn.”
Nonetheless, International Paper officials said the five days of testing produced “quality data” that “will provide useful insights to the mill’s processes.”
Donna Wadsworth, spokeswoman for IP, said that while company officials are disappointed the tests didn’t show promise for tire-derived fuel at the Ticonderoga mill, they believe they gave the concept “their best shot.”
She said the tests revealed the boiler can handle alternative fuel; that no one was hurt during the procedure; that the boiler operated in compliance with permitting standards; and that (the burn) generated a “wealth of data.”
While Wadsworth acknowledged tire-derived fuel is “now off the table” in terms of fuel mixes for the mill, the company will still consider “other alternative fuels.”
“This facility is a viable mill, but we need to continue to stay viable and competitive,” Wadsworth said. “We’ll continue to looks at ways to be more cost-effective and competitive.”