A resolution adopted by the Mirant Community Monitoring Group Monday night calls on Alexandria City Council “to oppose Trona use” at the Mirant Potomac River Generating Station. It was passed by a six to one margin.
Presented by Poul Hertel, a member of the Monitoring Group, the resolution asked that Council oppose the use of the chemical substance being used to reduce pollutants at the North Old Town power plant until:
1. “Valid public health studies showing no adverse effects from Trona, especially nearby populations, are done, and
2. Scientific studies showing the effects of Trona on all criteria pollutants, including particulate matter, both PM 10 and PM 2.5, are produced.”
Hertel based the petition on the following points: 1. The plant’s location in a high-density urban area; 2. Trona injections into coal-fired boilers is still considered “experimental”; 3. No public health studies, based on either long or short term exposure to Trona, have been done; and 4. No study has been conducted on the safety of injecting Trona into coal-fired boilers.
Alexandria Vice Mayor Redella “Del” Pepper, co-chair of the Monitoring Group, along with City Councilman Paul Smedberg, said, “The resolution will be presented to Council at its next legislative session.” Mayor William Euille will also be urged to write to Gov. Timothy Kaine urging more regulatory action.
The resolution was presented at the conclusion of the 90 minute City Hall session during which Michael Dowd, enforcement manager, Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, and Terry Darden, regional air permit manager, VDEQ, informed the group of Mirant’s existing and future operational status.
They also outlined the permit process that will take place over the next several months determining future operating procedures of the 50 plus year old plant.
“At present, Mirant is operating units four and five and they are meeting air quality standards. The use of Trona has greatly reduced particulate emissions and enhanced efficiency,” Dowd said.
“I know there is a great deal of skepticism in Alexandria about the use of Trona. And, they will be testing its use again. The first round of tests were very promising,” he said.
Addressing the Trona test report released by Mirant that was almost totally redacted, Dowd said, “The test results are public information and have been released. But, we have a statutory obligation under Virginia law to protect a company’s trade secrets.”
He admitted that there is a right-to-know under the Freedom of Information Act and with respect to public health, but “a judge may have to decide this one,” Dowd said.
“There are a number of issues here, but we don’t see a health issue as to the use of Trona. We have been using a method of testing approved by EPA (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency). There is a health issue as to what comes out of the stacks,” he said.
“It greatly concerns me that we have a veil of secrecy over this entire process,” Hertel said. He was joined in that evaluation by Smedberg who stated, “There is a real concern that all this talk is just another stall.”
When it came to the permit process, Darden said, “We’d like to get something out in the next couple of months.” That process will determine future operation requirements of the plant.
In explaining the procedure, Darden said, “We will be holding a public participation process to inform the public of all the details of how this whole thing works. At the conclusion of that outreach process there is a 30 days comment period. On the 31st day we will hold a public hearing to receive verbal comments.” Following that there is a two week review period to receive additional comments.
When questioned by Pepper as to when and where all this would take place, Darden conceded that had “still not been determined. But, it will be in the City of Alexandria.”
PRIOR TO DOWD’S COMMENTS City Attorney Ignacio Pessoa told the group there were no less than 11 different actions going on with the Mirant situation at the present time.