The Colorado Air Quality Control Commission has a hearing tomorrow (Tuesday) evening on CoorsTek’s air pollution operating permit. I realize that sentence may have already put you to sleep, but if you’re still with me it’s actually a pretty big deal.
CoorsTek operates the ceramics factory between Washington Ave. and Ford St. just south of Highway 58 in downtown Golden. Their manufacturing operations produce air pollution, which requires a permit from the State of Colorado governing things like how much pollution they can emit and how effectively they have to monitor what they’re emitting.
Although these operating permits are required every five years, CoorsTek is still operating on a 2009 permit - nearly a decade old. CoorsTek, thankfully, isn’t one of the larger emitters in the state, but the pollution they do emit is right in the center of town, near a lot of homes, Clear Creek, two of our main parks, and the Community Center, so the pollution it does push out can have a real impact on the air we’re all breathing. And as CoorsTek acknowledges in their permit application, they have frequently violated state and federal clean air requirements, so this isn’t academic.
The City of Golden submitted a solid comment letter on this, which hits four main points. Jeremy Nichols, a Golden resident who does a great deal of air quality and air pollution work also took the time to carefully review all of the paperwork and is pushing on the same four issues for the proposed permit renewal:
1) TRANSPARENCY. We know that the pollutants CoorsTek emits into Golden include probable and known carcinogens like benzene and formaldehyde, chemicals known to harm people’s lungs and breathing like hydrofluoric acid and nitrous oxides, and pollutants known to cause neurological harm like toluene. The chart in the document called CoorsTek Briefing (that Jeremy put together) has more details. But CoorsTek doesn’t let the community know what substances it is firing in its kilns, so there’s no way to really know what all the toxic chemicals are.
Recommendation: CoorsTek be required to let the community know what substances it is firing in its kilns. Without knowing that, it’s nearly impossible to ensure that we aren’t breathing harmful quantities of dangerous pollutants.
2) MONITORING. Under the proposed permit, CoorsTek only has to monitor what’s actually coming out of their stacks once every two or three years (and only once every six years on some of the stacks). Unless they improve this, if something dangerous is coming out of the stacks it may be years before anyone realizes it, and even if something dangerous is coming out of the stacks at that one moment they actually monitor the emissions, they’ll have no idea for how long it’s been happening. They really should be monitoring continuously. And the proposed monitoring methods aren't necessarily rigorous enough to detect problematic pollutants
Recommendation: CoorsTek be required to more rigorously monitor what’s actually coming out of the stacks continuously or at least frequently.
3) HOW MUCH POLLUTION IS OK. Because the factory is so old (the first kiln was constructed in 1929), long before modern clean air laws, it isn’t subject to pollution limits. That is pretty disconcerting, especially given that they aren’t required to let the community know what they are burning in the kilns or regularly monitor their actual pollution levels. This proposed permit does include some pollution limits for the first time, which is a step forward, but they didn’t do any sort of analysis to figure out what those limits should be.
Recommendation: CoorsTek and the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission should first figure out what the appropriate pollution limits should be so we can make sure that the CoorsTek emissions aren’t harming Golden residents.
4) BETTER EMISSION CONTROLS.
Recommendation: For all of these reasons, the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission should look at "opportunities to further limit emissions at the facility, particularly emissions of potentially hazardous air pollutants," as the City of Golden letter states.
If you can swing by City Hall Tuesday evening around 7pm, please do so. You don’t need to be an expert on any of this in order to speak during the comment period - you can just express whatever your concerns may be.