The Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) has proposed a consent order with Alabama Power for exceeding statutory limitations of hydrochloric acid emissions from Plant Barry in north Mobile County. In a notice issued Friday, ADEM contends that on April 14, routine tests on one of the plant’s power generators measured hydrochloric acid emissions at .0021 pounds per one million British Thermal Units (lb/MMBtu), which is .0001 lb/MMBtu above what is allowed under the utility’s air permit.
ADEM considers the exceedance to be a “serious violation,” but noted it “is not aware of any irreparable harm to the environment resulting from these violations.” Further, the department stated Alabama Power performed an investigation and preventative maintenance the day after the violation was reported, while it also has no history of enforcement actions due to exceedances of hydrochloric acid emissions at Plant Barry.
The utility is currently seeking the renewal of its air permit and two water permits at Plant Barry.
For its part, Alabama Power contends the exceedance was due to “a sudden and unanticipated introduction of moisture into the dry sorbent injection system immediately prior to and during the test” which resulted in “accelerated and unusual plugging of the sorbent injection lances and interfered with the performance of the sorbent injection system.”
Asked for clarification about the nature of the violation, Alabama Power spokesperson Elizabeth Weatherford Thomas offered only that “the violation was self-reported and, according to the order, was addressed and did not cause an impact to the environment.”
The Environmental Protection Agency describes hydrochloric acid as “corrosive to the eyes, skin, and mucous membranes,” where “acute (short-term) inhalation exposure may cause eye, nose, and respiratory tract irritation and inflammation and pulmonary edema in humans.”
“We intend to comply with the order from ADEM related to Plant Barry,” she added. “We have a strong track record of environmental compliance and Alabama Power will continue to follow state and federal measures while providing the reliable service our customers trust us to deliver.”
Alabama Power has agreed to pay ADEM $35,000 for the violation.
Mobile Baykeeper, which joined the Southern Environmental Law Center last month in submitting comments to ADEM about Plant Barry’s renewed air permit, said what appears to be a relatively minor exceedance could in fact be much more significant.
“[Toxic Release Inventory] data for Plant Barry show they released 30,000 pounds of [hydrochloric acid] last year through stack emissions,” wrote Baykeeper Program Manager Cade Kistler. “These emissions tests for [hydrochloric acid] are only conducted once per quarter. This means that there could have been hundreds of pounds of chlorine released in excess of the permit limit during the quarter even if there was only a slight violation. Without all the data on operating time and load it’s impossible to say exactly how much [hydrochloric acid] was emitted in excess of permit limits; hence the need for more frequent testing.”
Cade added, “this violation shows specifically how critical it is for ADEM to implement some of the things we asked for in our comments such as more robust monitoring requirements, requiring [Alabama Power] to give more details on emissions and heat input … and the importance of more frequent inspections by ADEM to ensure compliance.
“Long story short, without monitoring requirements that assure compliance with emission limits, detailed information on emissions limits, and proper oversight the permit is not effective at protecting our air quality,” he concluded.
This page is available to subscribers. Click here to sign in or get access. During the month of December, give (or get) a one year subscription with TWO months FREE.