FirstEnergy Hit With Maximum Fine for Soot Emissions

PITTSBURGH, Pennsylvania, August 28, 2007 (ENS) - For the second time this year, the Department of Environmental Protection, DEP, has fined FirstEnergy Generation Corp. the maximum penalty allowed for soot emission from the stack of the coal-fired power plant about 20 miles northwest of Pittsburgh.

The state agency says that on June 10 a "stack rain out" incident deposited a gray, gritty soot-like material on 28 Beaver County homes and properties near the plant.

This was the second such emission from the tall stack at FirstEnergy's Bruce Mansfield power plant in Shippingport Borough in less than a year. The first occurred on July 22, 2006, and affected more than 300 homes and properties in a two-mile area that extended from the borough into Raccoon Township.

"While the June 10 event affected far fewer homes and residents than the July 2006 event, the fact that a second stack rain out occurred is unacceptable," said DEP Southwest Regional Director Kenneth Bowman. "FirstEnergy has made operational improvements at the facility but, clearly, more improvements are needed."

The rainout was caused by a malfunction in the scrubber system, according to First Energy. The company said that upgraded equipment has been installed and that from now on the equipment that malfunctioned will be inspected during regular maintenance of the scrubber system so that deposits can be removed.

The company responded promptly to the incident by cleaning the affected properties, including washing of homes and cars.

Three separate lab tests on the soot by the state, the company and a community activist each showed heavy metals typical of scrubber particulate, such as arsenic.

The $25,000 fine, the maximum allowed for an incident of this nature under the Clean Air Act, will be paid to the Clean Air Fund, which finances air quality improvements across Pennsylvania.

In addition to paying the fine, FirstEnergy will increase the number of inspections it conducts, add additional monitors and instrumentation and clean the mist eliminators more frequently to prevent future stack rainouts.

The nonprofit advocacy group Citizens for Pennsylvania's Future, PennFuture, notified the company on May 22, 2007 that it would be sued if it failed to stop the pollution.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S Environmental Protection Agency were also notified of PennFuture's pending citizen suit.

"Even after the notice that we will sue, FirstEnergy just doesn't get it," said Charles McPhedran, senior attorney for PennFuture, who is representing local members of PennFuture in the air pollution suit.

"FirstEnergy needs to stop dumping soot on its neighbors and clean this plant up now. And DEP needs to do more than issue parking tickets to FirstEnergy. We need an enforceable plan to resolve this problem, with real consequences if FirstEnergy doesn't get the job done," McPhedran said.

Records provided by FirstEnergy show that the Bruce Mansfield plant released harmful and illegal air pollution at least 257 times between November 22, 2002 and March 29, 2007.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2007. All rights reserved.