Under new air permits proposed for Formosa’s $9.4 billion plastics complex in northern St. James Parish, the planned operation could emit enough new toxic chemicals to nearly double what already is released into the rural parish’s air.
St. James Parish ranks ninth in the state and in the top 100 nationally for toxic air emissions from existing permitted operations and also so-called fugitive sources, according to the latest federal toxic pollution data, gathered in 2017.
Formosa is proposing 14 separate production and utility plants on more than 2,300 acres in the Welcome area and, if permitted, would have the authority to release up to 1.6 million pounds of toxic chemicals annually, potentially boosting the parish's overall toxic emissions from 1.6 million pounds to 3.2 million pounds per year, state permit data show.
The potential increase would push St. James to sixth in the state in toxic air emissions. Ascension Parish, which is St. James' neighbor, is tops in the state at 12.6 million pounds, according to 2017 data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Toxics Release Inventory, the latest available.
The state Department of Environmental Quality plans a public hearing on Formosa's air permits 6 p.m. Tuesday at the St. James West Bank Reception Center, 2455 La. 18, Vacherie.
Called Project Sunshine, the huge complex has been welcomed by state and many local leaders with the promise of 1,200 permanent, high-paying jobs, 8,000 temporary construction jobs, $500 million in local spending and $362 million in state and local taxes.
The project has already gotten support from the parish government, and backers have agreed to controls and monitoring aimed at limiting the impact of its emissions on residents a little more than a mile downriver of the complex. Several other kinds of permits are pending, but the air permits — 15 in all — would give the plant authority to operate and help set the stage for construction.
DEQ declined to comment Monday, with the air permit decision pending.
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Company officials have said the new complex would meet or exceed all state and federal environmental requirements, and, according to DEQ, Formosa's air modeling shows the emissions would not exceed state ambient air standards for toxic chemicals nor contribute too much for one facility to ozone-forming gases or harmful particulates.
Regional and national environmental groups and some residents have been fighting Formosa for a few years as part of a broader push against an array of new or expanding chemical and tank farm facilities proposed for the parish's northern reaches on both sides of the Mississippi River, where some of the parish poorest and historically black communities are located.
"The proposed Formosa chemical complex is an environmental and public health disaster waiting to happen,” Adrienne Bloch, an Earthjustice senior attorney, said in a joint statement from several groups Monday. “The St. James Parish community deserves clean air, clean water, and a say on what gets built in their own backyard. We’ll be standing with our partners at LDEQ’s public hearing to make sure their voices are heard.”
VACHERIE — Formosa Chemical's plans for a $9.4 billion plant in a poor, rural section of St. James Parish has cleared a major hurdle although …
The proposed permit limits for the Formosa complex, which are being put forward by company affiliate FG LLC, would allow for millions of tons of greenhouse gases and hundred to thousands of tons of criteria pollutants, like fine particulates and sulfur and nitrogen oxides, that are known to contribute to the formation of ozone, acid rain and an array of potential human health problems.
But environmental groups have zeroed in primarily on benzene and ethylene oxide, two cancer-causing agents.
DEQ is proposing to allow Formosa's plant ethylene oxide emissions of 15,400 pounds per year, which would make the plant the second largest air emitter of ethylene oxide in the state and third largest in the nation, according to TRI data and DEQ permit filings.
For benzene, Formosa would be allowed to release 73,160 pounds per year, which would make it the second largest air emitter in the state, only behind the Shell Norco chemical facilities.
Janile Parks, spokeswoman for FG, said ethylene oxide is an intermediate compound produced in small amounts at FG's facility and is immediately converted into ethylene glycol.
She added the company has performed air dispersion modeling and it found the company's emissions of ethylene oxide would meet the lower health risk factors suggested in the EPA's National Air Toxics Assessment.
The public hearing Tuesday is part of a broader, extended comment period that DEQ has set up for the air permits, with written comments accepted from 4:30 p.m. Thursday through 4:30 p.m. Aug. 12.