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Residents sound off on asphalt plant plans

October 27, 2006|by DON AINES

ST. THOMAS, Pa. - Plans for a hot mix asphalt plant at the St. Thomas Development Inc. quarry drew fire from opponents at a public hearing Thursday before officials of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, with complaints about adverse effects on air quality, health and property values.

The quarry, less than a mile from the St. Thomas Elementary School where the hearing was held, received a permit to begin operations in March and officials have since applied for an air quality permit to begin producing up to 250,000 tons of asphalt a year.

"There is a place for an asphalt plant - just not here," said Cheryl Stearn of Friends and Residents of St. Thomas, or FROST, which was formed by quarry opponents three years ago. She said the plant will devalue properties, pollute the air, congest traffic and pose a health hazard.

"The stink of asphalt will permeate the air," Stearn said. "The American Lung Association gives Franklin County an 'F' already" for air quality, she said.

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Stearn cited a plant in North Carolina where nearby property values decreased an average of 27 percent and an $18 million class action suit against another asphalt plant in that state over reduced property values.

FROST President Francis Calverase said estimates of plant emissions are deceptive based on annual totals. Eleven tons of nitrous oxides, he said, is about 60 pounds a day, but the plant will likely operate only 88 days a year because of slack winter demand, weekends, holidays and other factors.

Plant emissions could average 250 pounds when it is operating, Calverase said.

The department should install air monitoring stations around the plant and charge the quarry to operate them, he said. The data collected will give residents "some means of getting compensation for health costs" years from now, he said.

Arsenic, cadmium, lead and other pollutants linked to illnesses ranging from headaches and nausea to birth defects and cancer will be emitted into the air, said Dr. Pierre Turchi, a local physician. The department should not grant the permit, but if it does, the plant should be required to use the most advanced emissions technology available.

"You're basically throwing a chemical stew into the air," said Eugene Macri, executive director of the environmental organization The Last River and Gamekeeper. Studies suggest increased rates of suicide and brain cancer among those exposed to certain chemical compounds, he said.

Resident Audrey Tozer read comments from Kevin M. Stewart, director of environmental health for the American Lung Association of Pennsylvania, stating that the "burden of proof ... lies with the applicant" as to whether the health risks are acceptable.

The association recommends "a properly credentialed third party" study the health effects of the plant, Stewart wrote.

Leif Ericson, regional director of the department's Air Quality Program, said it will research and respond to the issues raised through the end of the comment period on Nov. 10. The permit, now in draft form, could be approved, rejected or amended by early next year, he said.

More than 30 people attended the hearing, including state Rep. Mark Keller, R-Franklin/Perry, who said he was there "on a fact-finding mission to listen to the citizens."

Dwayne Johnson of St. Thomas Development Inc. was at the hearing, but did not speak. He said afterward he did not know when the asphalt plant might open.

"This process has to play itself out first," Johnson said.

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