Power company fined again for soot emissions in Beaver County

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FirstEnergy Generation Corp. will pay a second $25,000 fine for again allowing a blanket of black soot containing arsenic, lead and other heavy metals to rain down on properties near its Bruce Mansfield coal-burning power plant in Shippingport, Beaver County.

The latest fine, part of a consent order and agreement announced yesterday by the state Department of Environmental Protection, is for a so-called "stack rain out" of airborne particles June 10 that affected 28 homes and properties.

The company was also fined for a rain out on June 22, 2006, that covered more than 300 homes and properties in a two-mile area near the state's largest electric generating facility.

"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 Kenneth Bowman, DEP regional director.

"FirstEnergy has made operational improvements at the facility, but, clearly, more improvements are needed."

The fine is the maximum allowed by the state Clean Air Act and will be paid to the state Clean Air Fund, which finances air quality improvements across Pennsylvania.

Mark Durbin, a FirstEnergy spokesman, said the two stack rain out incidents were caused by different maintenance problems, and the company is working with the DEP to prevent a recurrence.

In addition to the fine, the consent order requires FirstEnergy to increase the number of inspections it conducts at the 2,410-megawatt plant, add more monitors and clean the mist eliminators more frequently to try to prevent future emissions problems.

Although arsenic in concentrations of up to 897 parts per million and lead concentrations of up to 75 parts per million were found in the soot deposited during the latest stack rain out, a review of the soot sampling data by the Pennsylvania Department of Health determined that there was "no apparent health hazard," the DEP said.

"These are hazardous materials and they have been deposited on that community for a long time. It's fair to be concerned," said Charles McPhedren, senior attorney for Citizens for Pennsylvania's Future, which, along with the Environmental Integrity Project, has filed a notice of intent to sue the electric utility company.

The environmental groups have accused the company of releasing "harmful and illegal" air pollution more than 250 times since November 2002, a "chronic problem" that hasn't been helped by pollution control upgrades that are scheduled to be completed by the end of this year, Mr. McPhedren said.

The company signed a consent order with the DEP in January 2005 to install new pollution controls, but they have not proved successful. Since then the company has paid a $5,000 monthly fine for opacity violations, essentially thick smoke coming out of the plant's stack.

"The scrubbers are doing a lot of good," Mr. Durbin said, "but there are some issues regarding opacity that we continue to work with the DEP on."

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency fined FirstEnergy $8.5 million in 2005 for air pollution at Bruce Mansfield.

Don Hopey can be reached at dhopey@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1983.


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