WASHINGTON – Some top industrial polluters in Maryland blame their size and high production for their large toxic emissions.
“People look at the figures and say, `Oh my God, what a horrible company,’ ” said James Hunt, environmental manager at Quebecor Printing in Glen Burnie. But, Hunt said, the company pollutes less than many “mom and pop” printing shops grouped together.
Quebecor has 160 employees and prints millions of newspaper inserts.
Environmental Protection Agency data show Quebecor released about 9.6 million pounds of toxins into the environment between 1989 and 1993 – the second highest total for a Maryland manufacturer.
Only Westvaco’s paper and pulp plant in Allegany County topped it, emitting about 13 million pounds of toxic chemicals during the five-year period, Capital News Service’s analysis of EPA data showed.
SCM Chemicals was the fourth-highest producer, behind Bethlehem Steel’s Sparrows Point Plant in Baltimore County.
“I guess it’s a question of scale,” said Louis Kistner, spokesman for SCM’s Hawkins Point Plant in Baltimore. “We’re well within the boundaries.”
The chemical company – a global manufacturer of titanium dioxide, a whitener used in paint, paper and toothpaste – emitted 5.5 million pounds of toxins between 1989 and 1993.
Three of the top four polluters decreased their levels of toxic emissions during the five years, the analysis revealed.
Bethlehem Steel, which released 9.4 million pounds of toxins during the five years studied, reduced its pollution because of government pressure and new technologies, company and state officials said.
The company’s toxic releases dropped from about 1.9 million pounds in 1989 to 1.4 million pounds in 1993.
George Krause, spokesman for the Maryland Department of the Environment, said the department filed a court action in 1987 against Bethlehem Steel. The plant’s coke ovens, needed to refine fuel for steel making, tended to leak potentially carcinogenic gases, Krause said.
Four other orders were issued between 1989 and 1992 because the plant failed to control the leaks. The standoff resulted in a three-party settlement between the EPA, the state of Maryland and Bethlehem Steel, Krause said.
The company ended up paying a $3.5 million penalty, he said.
Ted Baldwin, spokesman for Bethlehem Steel, said the company closed the ovens completely in 1992. It substituted newer technologies and imported the coke from out-of-state or foreign countries.
Kistner said SCM Chemicals’ compliance improved following a November 1990 order from the Maryland Department of the Environment. The agency ordered SCM to limit its releases of air toxins, such as sulfuric acid mist.
EPA data showed the company’s releases dipped from 1.2 million pounds of toxins in 1989 to about 1 million pounds in 1993. “It’s all within the limitations required in our permits,” Kistner said.
Declines in toxic emissions from Westvaco’s plant in Western Maryland – from 5.9 million pounds in 1989 to 2.1 million pounds in 1993 – can be attributed to company efforts after more stringent EPA standards were put in place.
Over the past seven years, Westvaco has spent more than $50.5 million to reduce pollution to air and water at the Luke mill. It will spend $24 million to improve its bleaching process, a move expected to be complete by April 1997, said Roger Dandridge, vice president and manager of the mill.
Quebecor Printing did not reduce toxic emissions between 1989 and 1993. In fact, the EPA database shows emissions climbed from 1.7 million to 2 million pounds during the five years.
However, Hunt said 1994 and 1995 saw reduced pollution because of downsizing. EPA data were not available for those two years to chart the company’s pollution rate.
Swings in pollution emissions are directly related to company productivity, Hunt said. Quebecor laid off 80 workers in the past two years and shut down two of the company’s five presses for economic reasons, he said.
Most of Quebecor’s emissions result from fumes escaping from printing presses. “It’s mostly toluene and tiny amounts of xylene,” Hunt said.
Both chemicals are used as solvents for ink. Eighty-eight percent of the fumes are collected and sent back to ink manufacturers for recycling, Hunt said.
He added that the company plans to change to more environment-friendly techniques within the next two years, such as water-based inks and offset printing. CNS reporter Margie Hyslop contributed to this report. -30-