A Kent firm, long believed by surrounding residents to be illegally polluting the air in their neighborhood, has been fined for violating Ohio EPA emissions laws.
Procex Ltd., at 880 Cherry St., was fined by a Portage County Common Pleas Court for violating the state's air pollution control laws and ordered to add and improve existing emissions capture equipment at their plant.
The firm reclaims metal parts by stripping rubber, adhesives, paints and other coatings from the metal, according to the company's website.
The parts are reclaimed via electric heat inductors and immersion in a salt bath. During the reclamation process, portions of the coatings and adhesives are turned into a gas. That gas can smell like burning rubber and has plagued residents north of the business since the fall of 2006.
The court order fines Procex $10,000 for violating chapter 3704 of the Ohio Revised Code regulating air pollution controls. It was issued last month by Portage County Common Pleas Judge Laurie Pittman.
The court also ordered Procex install an air pollution capture system "designed to minimize or eliminate visible particle emissions" from three electric inductors used in the reclamation process. Procex has until Nov. 30, 2012, to install the equipment.
Kent City Councilman Jack Amrhein, whose Ward 2 neighborhoods have been most effected by the issue, said it's about time a resolution was reached.
"This has been going on even before I got on council,” Amrhein said. “I’m certainly glad that something’s been done about it."
7 years of complaints
The case started in the fall of 2006, when Longmere Drive resident Fred Pierre filed a complaint with the Akron Regional Air Quality Management District about a foul odor and smoke emitted from Procex's vent stacks.
Eventually, the Ohio EPA, which governs the Akron air district, started testing Procex's scrubbers and in January 2007 the plant passed initial tests for particulate matter in its emissions.
Complaints continued to trickle in, and officials with the EPA and Akron air district found other violations at the Cherry Street plant through numerous inspections and site visits that led to filing of the civil suit in November 2009.
The initial court complaint charged that through either uncontrolled or improperly controlled emissions Procex was letting air pollutants from the reclamation process loose into the ambient air, "including a horrible odor, causing a public nuisance with little or no regard for public safety or the environment."
Residents in the neighborhood north of the plant complained that during summer evenings, when high heat and humidity intensified the odor, they suffered from headaches and couldn't open their windows without their homes filling with the smell of burnt rubber.
Initially, attorneys for Procex denied the charges that uncontrolled emissions were escaping the plant and contributing to a nuisance odor for the neighborhood.
Yet nearly three years later attorneys for both Procex and the Ohio EPA settled on the consent order and final judgment entry issued May 3 in Pittman's court.
Dan Tierney, a spokesperson for the Ohio Attorney General's Office, said the consent order is essentially a settlement that was mutually agreed upon by all parties involved in the case, including the Ohio EPA, the ARAQMD and Procex and its owners.
"We are pleased with the consent order," Tierney said.
An attorney for Procex declined to comment on the consent order.
New rules to follow
The court order stipulates the emission control system at Procex must include an effective ductwork with an exhaust fan to capture all emissions from all three inductors and funnel the emissions to "improved and effective" air pollution control equipment.
The order also stipulates that, aside from the improved emissions capture system, emissions from all the inductors must comply with allowable limits spelled out in Ohio air pollution control laws.
Because Procex has until November to comply the order also stipulates several interim measures, including:
- Holding monthly "all-employee" meetings to talk about better ways to reduce smoke and improve emissions capture;
- Use continuous water sprays in the rubber recycle bins of the three inductors, or immerse parts in water-filled bins, to reduce smolder smoke after the reclamation process;
- Cleaning of the plant's existing scrubber on a quarterly basis;
- And use of portable "smoke hogs" connected to scrubber duct work to aid in emission capture and containment.
The settlement also orders Procex to stop using a salt bath designed to remove residual coating meterials left on the parts after use of the electric inductors.
Russ Risley, an air quality engineer for the Akron Regional AQMD, said the court order also gives Procex a 90-day study period to determine if all uses of the salt bath can be transferred over to a natural gas fired burnoff oven.
Risley said the burnoff oven, installed in 2009, was initially only used for removing paint from paint hooks and appliances. But the court order allows Procex to temporarily modify the permit for the burnoff oven to use it for removing rubber coatings, residual adhesives and other material not removed by the inductors.
That temporary modification gives Procex up to 90 days to determine if they can switch their production work from the salt bath to the burnoff oven, he said.
"If that study is successful, then it will be the future path they will take," Risley said. "They will not operate the salt bath any longer and production will have been transferred permanently from the salt bath to the burn off oven."
The new emissions control system must incorporate emissions from the burnoff oven, according to the court order.
Procex had to shut down the salt bath during this 90-day period, but the company can restart the salt bath provided it applies for the necessary permit and is approved by the Ohio EPA.
To ensure compliance with Ohio air pollution laws, the court order stipulates Procex must conduct strict testing on emissions from the stack for the air pollution control equipment. The emissions must comply with a total hourly particulate emissions rate of 1.65 pounds per hour based on Ohio air pollution laws.
The firm must submit updated permits to the EPA for all of its emissions equipment by March 2013.
And Procex was ordered to keep closed and sealed all inactive building vents that aren't necessary for adequate building and worker ventilation.
As for the cash fine, $2,000 must be paid by Procex to the Ohio EPA's Clean Diesel School Bus Program. The remaining $8,000 was to be paid to the state.
Meanwhile, Risley said the ARAQMD is still receiving complaints from residents about odors and smoke coming from the building.
In fact, Pierre filed a complaint with the Akron air district June 8 in which he said the odor and smoke from the plant was the worst its been in two years.
In his complaint, Pierre described the odor as "oppressive and horrible."
"Since Procex had paid their fine they must think it’s okay to let the odors out again because it had gotten better for about two years, and now it’s real bad again," Pierre wrote in his complaint.
Pierre said recently he remains somewhat skeptical but is hopeful the court order will lead to an improvement in the air quality in his neighborhood.
Editor's note: copies of the final judgment entry and the initial court complaint are attached to this article.