The Davis County waste-to-energy facility - or "burn plant" - is emitting 2 1/2 times the amount of hydrochloric acid allowed by law.
But getting the plant's owner and operator - who are already embroiled in lawsuits - to clean up their act might require nothing short of a miracle.Smokestack tests conducted Dec. 27 found that the plant was discharging 41 pounds of the acid per hour into the atmosphere.
The legal limit is 16 pounds per hour.
"It's quite a bit worse than we expected," said Marvin Maxell, who is in charge of compliance and monitoring at the state Bureau of Air Quality. "It's the biggest violation on a stack test we've had."
Owned by the Davis County Energy Recovery Special Service District, the burn plant incinerates garbage to generate steam, which is sold to the adjacent Hill Air Force Base. It has been operated since it opened in 1984 by Davis Energy Systems Co., a subsidiary of Katy Industries Inc.
State law requires annual smokestack tests, which are performed by contractors hired by the owner and approved by the state.
"They (the owner and operator) tuned the plant a few days before the test and they assumed they were going to pass it," Maxell said. "It was a shock to us and them when they didn't pass."
Hydrochloric acid, when inhaled, can irritate the respiratory system, damage lung tissue, inhibit the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood and increase acidity in the blood, Maxell said.
Though the state has the power to shut down the plant, "it wouldn't be expedient to do so," Maxell said. Not only does the county depend on the plant for disposal of municipal waste but the district must continue selling steam or suffer serious financial harm.
"It is our philosophy to get them into compliance, not throw up a blockade," Maxell said.
The bureau plans to meet soon with the owner and operator to discover what exactly went wrong and how to solve the problem.
Because the existing pollution control system was working properly at the time of the violations, Maxell said he believes the plant is incinerating too many plastics, the primary source of hydrochloric acid. Or the plant may simply have had an unusually large amount of plastics in its waste stream the day the stack tests were conducted, he said.LeGrand Bitter, energy district director, said he believes it is a problem with the lime-injection system used to control emissions.
"We were disappointed. It was our expectation that the system would work. We were told (by the operator) that it would be a fantastic system."
Maxell said the plant may be required to separate out its plastics to reduce the amount burned at any given time or install wet scrubbers in the smokestack.
Either solution could prove costly and could cause further political and legal problems, which have beset the plant since its conception.
When the plant was being planned, the Bureau of Air Quality tried to require that scrubbers be installed. But pollution control equipment would have escalated the plant's cost, which was a touchy subject among the communities that are members of the district, which includes all of Morgan and Davis counties except Bountiful.
The state finally agreed to allow the plant to use a system in which lime would be injected into the incineration to neutralize the acids produced.
But the lime-injection system has proven to be less than reliable.
"We've been fighting this lime-injection thing for several years . . . . They've had lots of problems with it up there," Maxell said, noting problems with equipment as well as human error.
Indeed, a lawsuit filed by the energy district last fall against Davis Energy Systems Co. accuses the company of using less than the amounts of lime required by law.
"If we were to permit that thing today, it would be a whole different ball game. There would be more emission controls required," Maxell said.
Solving the air-quality problem is complicated by the energy district's lawsuit, an earlier lawsuit that Davis Energy Systems filed against the district and a countersuit filed recently.
If, for example, the state requires a scrubber to be installed, there may be a dispute between the energy district and the operator over who should pay for it, Bitter said.
Tensions between the two parties erupted at a March 5 meeting at the bureau in which the air-quality issue was being discussed,
"It's a real mess," Maxell said.
The Deseret News was unable to make contact with Davis Energy Systems, whose parent company is out of state. In the past, however, the company has refused to comment because of the pending litigation.
Too much hydrochloric acid
The state Bureau of Air Quality said the Davis burn plant's discharge was "the biggest violation on a stack test we've had."
Plant discharge 41 pounds per hour
Legal limit 16 pounds per hour