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THE TOXICITY OF OUR CITY

by Jeff Sykes

DATA COMPILED BY JEFF SYKES

In addition to the Clean Air Act of 1970 which was designed to protect the public from harmful air pollution, the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) was passed in 1986 to help increase the public’s knowledge and access to information on chemicals at individual facilities in their communities, their uses, and releases into the environment. One of the provisions of EPCRA allows residents to inspect a facility’s emissions permit to identify the types of chemicals being used at the facility and determine whether or not there have been permit violations. The Toxic Release Inventory provision requires companies complete and submit a toxic chemical release inventory form annually to the EPA.

It’s really crucial for communities that are located adjacent to industrial facilities that they believe are emitting toxic or hazardous air pollutants to go-online and research that facility’s emissions. Many of these pollutants are known carcinogens and can result in serious health impacts if there is long-term exposure.

The BTEX chemicals are especially harmful to human health. BTEX refers to benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene. They are often found together in petroleum based products such as diesel fuel, gasoline and home heating oil. Separately they are used in a variety of consumer products including plastics, paints, coatings, synthetic rubber and pesticides. Benzene is identified as a carcinogen linked to leukemia.

Acute exposure of BTEX within certain occupations can result in skin irritation, respiratory symptoms, and depression of the central nervous system. Long term exposure to BTEX compounds can cause damage to the kidney, liver and blood systems.

Clean Air Carolina is especially concerned with the regulation of toxic emissions because of changes North Carolina’s legislature made to our state’s air toxics rules in 2012. Our program, first adopted in the 1980’s to protect public health near polluting facilities, preceded federal air toxics regulations. According to EPA’s toxic release inventory, sources emitted 34 million pounds of toxics in air emissions in North Carolina in 2010, and 1.5 million pounds of carcinogens. But changes made by the legislature several years ago excluded hundreds of facilities from state regulation if they those facilities were included in the federal program. In addition, funding was cut to the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources, which oversees enforcement of the state and federal programs.

With less state oversight of air toxics emissions in North Carolina, its left to residents in many cases to be the watchdogs of polluting facilities to make sure the air they breathe is not harming their health.

– Source Clean Air Carolina

Top 10 sources of toxic air pollution in Guilford County

1. RF MICRO DEVICES FAB 3

RF Micro came on the scene in 1991 and employs about 1,500 people in Guilford County. The company makes radio frequency integrated circuits, modules, power amplifiers and antenna controls for mobile communication devices and infrastructure. The company completed a merger with TriQuint and became Qorvo in January 2015. RF Micro was the leading source of single on-site toxic chemical releases in 2013, with 69,005 pounds of N-Methyl-2-Pyrrolidone released from its Fab 3 facility at 7908 Piedmont Triad Pkwy.

2. THOMAS BUILT BUSES INC

The company traces its roots to 1916 when it made electric streetcars. By the 1970s Thomas Car Works was one of the largest bus makers in the country, and reformed as Thomas Built Buses in 1972. The company is headquartered in High Point and is now a subsidiary of Daimler AG. The company touts a “Zero-Waste-to-Landfill” manufacturing process and a commitment to sustainable manufacturing. The company in 2013 released 42,507 pounds of Certain Glycol Ethers, a group of solvents used in pharmaceuticals, degreasers, cleaners, aerosol paints and adhesives.

3. MARSH FURNITURE CO

The company, also based in High Point, was founded in 1906 as a manufacturer of kitchen cabinets. Staying true to its kitchen roots, Marsh grew with the times and entered its second century of production in the past decade. Situated on a sprawling complex on South Centennial Street, just off of Main Street, EPA data lists Marsh Furniture as the largest producer of air toxins in Guilford County, with a total of 75,891 pounds of toxic chemicals released in 2013. Methanol pollution was tops with 35,488 pounds, the third highest release of a single chemical. Marsh also released 21,803 pounds of Xylene and 18,600 pounds of N-Butyl Alcohol into the air, good for sixth and seventh highest on the list.

4. LORILLARD TOBACCO CO

This tobacco company is older than the Declaration of Independence, having been founded in 1760 in New York. James P. Duke once controlled the company, until the federal courts made him split up his holdings in 1911. Lorillard moved cigarette manufacturing to Greensboro in 1956 and currently employs about 1,300 people at its facility on East Market Street. Currently in negotiations to merge with Reynolds American Inc., Lorillard released 27,739 pounds of nicotine and salts into the air in 2013, in addition to 6,090 pounds of ammonia.

5. EVONIK CORP

If you think corporations are confusing in the US, try pronouncing the word in German. It’s Aktiengesellschaft, a word almost as big as this company’s manufacturing facility just off Eugene Street, at 2401 Doyle St. in Greensboro. More than 200 people work in a 2 million square foot facility there as part of the German conglomerate’s superabsorbent and cosmetic ingredients production. Superabsorbents are used in diapers and other incontinence products, according to NC Biotech. The facility released 15,783 pounds of Acrylic Acid into the air in 2013.

6. SHERWIN-WILLIAMS CO

Headquartered in Cleveland, Ohio, and employing more than 30,000 people across the world, Sherwin-Williams leads our list with seven toxic chemicals in the top 30 of the most released in Guilford County. The company was founded in 1866 and makes popular paint brands Sherwin-Williams, Dutch Boy, Duplicolor and Krylon, among others, at the Greensboro plant opened in 1948. That’s almost as many chemicals as they released into the air, with Toluene topping the list at 14,712 pounds emanating from their Howard Street facility, followed by: 9,647 more pounds of Toluene from their Stage Coach Trail facility, 8,502 pounds of Methanol, 8,255 total pounds of Xylene and 3,137 pounds of Methyl Isobutyl Ketone. The company also released 1,922 pounds of N-Butyl Alcohol. (Yes, that’s really their logo.)

7. PIEDMONT CHEMICAL INDUSTRIES I LLC

The company was founded in 1938 to support the regional textile industry with “innovative chemistry.” The company website lists a long line of products that seem to cover the textile manufacturing process, from preparation and dyeing to finishing and garment processing. More modern manufacturing processes include products for UV curable, composites and urethane manufacturing, in addition to fee-based research and development. With facilities in the Caribbean, Central America and Asia, this homegrown company remains privately held. From their High Point facility on Burton Avenue the company released 12,749 pounds of acrylic acid into the air.

8. DOW CORNING CORP

Dr. Shailer Bass developed Dow Corning’s first product, a silicone grease that made high altitude flight possible in 1942 by stabilizing aircraft electrical systems. The company now creates more than 7,000 products, including sealants, adhesives, molds, and a litany of other silicone-based products for semiconductors and solar panels. The company’s site on Patterson Street in Greensboro was established in 1954, the first for the company outside of Michigan, and currently makes antifoam, emulsion, sealants and primers, in addition to serving as a distribution facility. We’ve already seen Xylene on our list, and Dow Corning served up 11,009 pounds into the air in 2013.

9. AKZO NOBEL COATINGS INC

The first Dutch Company on our list (we’re not counting Dutch Boy), AkzoNobel makes decorative paints, coatings and specialty chemicals. It’s headquartered in Amsterdam and active in 80 countries. We’re concerned with their facility on Progress Avenue in High Point, where they make paint and other wood coatings, according to NC Biotech. The facility released 8,891 pounds of Toluene in 2013.

10. ASHLAND INC

A Fortune 500 company based in Covington, Kentucky that was founded as a refining company in 1924. Perhaps now best known for Valvoline motor oil, the company was involved in petroleum refining up until it sold its holdings in Marathon Oil in 2005. Ashland operates in adhesives and emulsion, foundry chemicals, specialty chemicals and performance enhancing products for industrial and consumer markets. “Chemistry is our culture,” the company claims, and to that end they released 7,792 pounds of Acrylic Acid into the air in 2013, along with the first listed carcinogen on our list, Acrylamide, to the tune of 6,173 pounds.

Top 10 air toxins released in Guilford County

1. N-METHYL-2-PYRROLIDONE

Is a colorless organic compound this is miscible with water and other organic solvents. It is widely used in the petro and plastics industries due to its stability and power. It’s used as a solvent to treat textiles or metal-coated plastics, a paint stripper and in the pharmaceutical industry to formulate medication. California considers it a carcinogen, and the Chemical and Engineering News reported in 2008 that many companies were looking for alternative solvents.

2. CERTAIN GLYCOL ETHERS

This would make a great name for a Dubstep band, but Union Carbide first entered this category in 1924. Another group of solvents used in paints and cleaners, these certain glycol ethers show up in pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, ink, dyes, degreasers and adhesives. The journal Occupation and Environmental Medicine reported a 2008 study that linked occupational exposure to certain low sperm count in men.

3. METHANOL

Not to be confused with ethanol, this was once merely a byproduct of wood distillation, but is not made directly from CO, CO2 and hydrogen. Primarily used as a feedstock to make other chemicals, it is a fundamental component of formaldehyde, and thence into plastics, plywood, paints, explosives and permanent press textiles. It is also used as fuel in many competitive motor vehicles.

4. NICOTINE AND SALTS

A quarter century of mass media and public health education campaigns have convinced us that smoking is bad, and that’s good, but nicotine itself makes up less than 3 percent of the dry weight of tobacco. Nicotine is found in the roots and leaves of the nightshade family of plants and was widely used as an insecticide in the past. Nicotine as air pollution from manufacturing has an estimated half-life of five hours and is considered to have low toxicity to aquatic and terrestrial species.

5. XYLENE (MIXED ISOMERS)Derived from the Greek word for “wood,” Xylenes are formed during petrochemical processes and found in gasoline and airplane fuels. Discovered in 1851 as an element of wood tar, it can now be manufactured by altering toluene and benzene. Industrial applications include printing ink, rubber and leather, or as a cleaning agent for silicon wafers and integrated circuits. It might also be used as the active ingredient in earwax removal products. Xylene was once altered to create Xylyl Bromide, a tear-gas agent used in World War I.

6. N-BUTYL ALCOHOL

Is primarily used to manufacture other chemicals, but is a permitted flavorant in butter, ice cream, whiskey and baked goods. Industrial uses range from an extractant in the production of vitamins, a solvent in paints, resins and dyes, and even as a swelling agent in textiles. It occurs naturally in the fermentation of many foodstuffs, including beer, wine and whisky. The toxicity of the chemical is considered to be very low. A natural component of many types of alcoholic beverages, it is thought to be the agent responsible for hangovers. When released into the air during industrial processes, it has a half-life of about 36 hours.

7. ACRYLIC ACID

More than 1,000 kilotons of this organic compound are produced each year. A colorless liquid with an acrid smell, it is produced as a byproduct of ethylene and gasoline production. When combined with other chemicals, acrylic acid is used to manufacture plastics, adhesives, polishes and paints. It is corrosive to the skin, eyes and respiratory system.

8. TOLUENE

This colorless liquid is associated with paint thinners. It was first isolated in 1837 by a Polish chemist distilling pine. It is commonly used as an element to manufacture other chemicals and as a solvent. It is used as an octane booster in gasoline fuels in competitive motor sports, and to separate hemoglobin in biochemistry experiments. It is much less toxic than benzene and has taken its place as a solvent in manufacturing other chemicals.

9. ACRYLAMIDE

Is the first categorized carcinogen on our list of the top 10 toxic chemicals released in Guilford County. It is a white odorless solid that is soluble in a variety of liquids. It is widely used when combined with other chemicals to thicken liquids in wastewater treatment, papermaking and tertiary oil recovery. Sometimes used in the creation of dyes, it is widely used in the manufacture of permanent press fabrics. Workplace exposure limits are set at a trace amount over an eight-hour day.

10. METHYL ISOBUTYL KETONE

We skipped over ammonia in order to bring you the good news about this mouthful, which is another colorless liquid often used as a solvent for lacquers, certain polymers and resins. It is a precursor to a chemical that extends the life of tires, and used in liquid extraction. It is capable of extracting gold and silver from natural liquids and also used in the preparation of CS spray used by British police.

Top 20 Released Chemicals

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