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Proposed Verso permit would allow some air pollutants to rise

IRON MOUNTAIN, Michigan (From news reports) -- State environmental officials are accepting public comment until July 27 on an application that allows for a modest increase in pulp production at Verso's mill in Quinnesec, while allowing the maximum release of some air pollutants to rise by hundreds of tons per year, including a doubling of particulate matter.

"The Verso Quinnesec Mill has been designated by the state of Michigan as a Clean Corporate Citizen and an ISO 14001 certified facility," Mill Manager Dennis Perpich said. "We have worked closely with the state throughout the permitting process to ensure all applicable compliance requirements are met. Emissions in the area will continue to meet the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for all pollutants. The project will have a positive economic impact on the local community as well as preserve the longevity of the mill."

Regulators will review all comments before deciding whether to accept the permit as written, introduce modifications or deny it. A virtual public hearing would take place July 20 but only if requested in writing by Tuesday.

In a 207-page application dated Aug. 17, 2020, Verso proposed to begin construction after permit approval. The modifications include upgrades to the digester system, pulp washing system, oxygen delignification system, evaporator system and recovery furnace.

According to the company, emissions affected and subject to an air permit review include nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide and particulate matter.

As proposed, current permit production limits of 1,725 tons of digester pulp per day could rise to 1,786 tons, a 3.5% increase. The application also allows for an increase in black liquor solids fired in Verso's recovery furnace, rising from 4.44 million pounds per day to 4.68 million, a 5.4% increase.

Under the proposed permit, the project could result in emissions increases of up to 201 tons per year of nitrogen oxides; 356 tons per year of carbon monoxide; 144 tons per year of particulate matter; 161 tons per year of particulate matter equal to or less than 10 microns in diameter; and 159 tons per year of particulate matter equal to or less than 2.5 microns in diameter.

Levels of emissions in the application are the maximum allowable increases, the company noted. "We have designed the project so that actual emissions will be lower," Perpich said.

Based on information provided by AQD staff, the proposed overall increase for the three categories of particulate matter is 468 tons per year, or 105%. The increase for nitrogen oxides is 17%, while carbon monoxide emissions could rise by 36%. Greenhouse gases as carbon dioxide equivalents would rise by up to 103,423 tons per year, representing an increase of 7%.

Emissions of sulfur dioxide, volatile organic compounds, lead, sulfuric acid, hydrogen sulfide, total reduced sulfur and fluorides are also affected but do not trigger a new source review.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, particulate matter contains microscopic solids or liquid droplets that are so small they can be inhaled and pose a risk to health. Particles less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter pose the greatest risk. For perspective on size, the average human hair is about 70 micrometers in diameter.

According to the business data firm Statista, particulate matter emissions less than 2.5 microns in diameter totaled roughly 1.45 million tons across the U.S. in 2020. The Quinnesec mill's limit of 278 tons per year under the proposed permit would represent 0.019% of that total.

More information on the project and the comment process is available at http://www.deq.state.mi.us/aps/downloads/permits/PubNotice/99-20/99-20PPS.pdf.

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