Geneva Steel has agreed to pay $41,000 to the Utah Department of Health for possible air quality violations, but Geneva officials say they do not understand how the plant can flunk opacity readings and pass health standards at the same time.
"We ourselves are a little bit perplexed by what may be an inconsistency between the opacity and our meeting the mass emissions tests," said Geneva President Joe Cannon. "If we are meeting the health standards, then how can we be in any violation?"The opacity reading is a visual standard used to determine what a plant is emitting, while the mass emissions test is measured through filters. Geneva officials say the two tests are separate because mass emissions is conducted for health standards and the opacity reading is for aesthetics.
But Burnell Cordner, director of the Bureau of Air Quality, said the opacity test is one of the tools they use to determine if a facility is in compliance with air quality standards.
If they see that the density of a smoke plume is more than 20 percent, it exceeds the standard. In order to be in compliance, the state feels that a company must meet both requirements, he said.
The negotiated settlement comes under the Air Conservation Committee's penalties policy and is still in draft form, Cordner said. It will come before the Air Conservation Committee for final action Dec. 15.
The opacity violation was issued in November against one stack in the open hearth area at the plant, Cannon said. The six-minute violation came after one observation.
"That amount is a whale of a fine in that kind of situation," Cannon said. "We could have fought it. There is a lot of ambiguity."
But Cordner, also acting as executive director of the Air Conservation Committee, said the $41,000 consent agreement resolves six cases where air quality officials have observed what they claim are opacity violations.
When emissions are seen to exceed standards, "we ask the company to tell us what they will do to get back into compliance."
Cannon said, "There is no other company that is as cooperative as we have been with the state. We have deliberately taken the position to be as cooperative as we can to solve the genuine environmental problems."
Jack Bollow, Geneva's director of public affairs, said the infrared testing device used at night to measure opacity is not an approved method of testing among the state, the Environmental Protection Agency and Geneva Steel.
"We were well within compliance and actually doing better in the readings for mass emissions," Bollow said. "The filters showed no violation. The most important thing to us is to meet the health standards."
The infrared testing, used to determine if Geneva was emitting more smoke during the night, came after citizens complained to the Air Conservation Committee that Geneva puts out more pollutants at night.
But Cannon said, "We operate the plant exactly the same day and night. We do not even have the physical ability to make changes."
Geneva officials say it may appear the plant emits more at night because the air is more stable and pollution is more concentrated.