Isle of Wight named in report on toxic air emissions

Published 10:38 am Friday, July 29, 2016

The area of Isle of Wight County that contains the International Paper – Franklin Mill ranks third in “Top 25 Virginia Localities with the Highest Toxic Air Emissions” for 2014. The claim comes from a report released on Thursday by the Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club, a national organization devoted to protecting the environment.

Via a press release, Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club Director Kate Addleson said, “We are issuing this report to inform the public and highlight the corporate polluters responsible for our poor air quality. A lot of people don’t know what’s in their air and how bad it is compared to other places.”

That report is based on the Environmental Protection Agency’s 2014 Toxic Release Inventory.

The top three localities are:

• Covington in the 24426 ZIP code at 2.94 million pounds of total toxic air emissions, with no percentage change from 2013;

• Hopewell in the 23860 ZIP code at 2.784 million pounds of total toxic air emissions; with a 20 percent increase from 2013; and

• Isle of Wight in the 23851 ZIP code at 1.44 million pounds of total toxic air emissions, with a six percent increase from 2013.

Other southeastern Virginia localities that made the list: Chesapeake (23324) is ranked seventh; Yorktown (23692) as 12th and Newport News (23607) as 23rd.

“Virginians living in these highly polluted areas don’t have the means to fight these giant corporations, and the polluters are taking advantage of that,” Kendyl Crawford, Conservation Program manager of the Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club, stated in the release. “State regulators like the Department of Environmental Quality should be doing more to protect public health from toxic air emissions.”

During a phone call on Thursday, Crawford explained that the reason for the two-year lag in reporting is due to the structure in reporting. Once a company delivers its records to the EPA, then that agency has to read and finalize its own report.

“That’s one of the things that frustrates me,” said Crawford. “There’s no way to get the data sooner.”

She’s also vexed by how air emissions are reported. In her opinion, there appears to be no standard, such as the use of monitoring equipment, mostly just estimates. She did add, though, about hearing the Hopewell, Radford and Newport News having such devices.

The Virginia chapter has not done its own inspections of the companies it investigates, but Crawford said that could be considered for the future. The state chapter has 15,000 members, but the staff is comprised of only 12 to 13.

“We can’t get everywhere at once,” she added.

In response to a call for comment on the report’s findings, International Paper – Franklin Mill’s Communications Manager Jennifer Railey replied via email with the following:

“International Paper tracks and reports air emissions from all of our manufacturing facilities and we consistently remain below regulatory compliance levels. This applies to our Franklin mill as well.

“We work with regulatory agencies to ensure that we comply with air emissions standards. To be clear, our Franklin mill meets U.S. EPA compliance requirements.”

Asked how IP calculates the number that it reports to the EPA, Railey said, “The standard is throughput (production) times industry developed emission factors.”

She continued, “Our company continues to reduce overall air emissions from our manufacturing operations worldwide, and we have set aggressive high-impact sustainability goals to achieve greater reductions. When the Franklin Mill was restarted in 2012, it used only the most efficient elements of what was once a much larger facility. In 2014, the promise of the reborn mill was further realized as the team applied their creativity and a structured improvement process, called Manufacturing Excellence, to identify projects that have optimized energy use.

Furthermore, “The efforts yielded 20 percent reduction in gas use and a 30,000-ton reduction in fossil fuel greenhouse gas emissions. Additionally, the Franklin Power and Recovery team was able to support much of the mill’s steam requirements by burning only biomass residuals instead of gas.”

Railey also noted that in 2015, IP donated over $85,000 to charitable organizations throughout the local community in support of environmental education, literacy and health and human services.

She also stated, “In recognition of Earth Day and Clean Rivers Month, and in collaboration with the Blackwater/Nottoway Riverkeeper, on April 22, a team of more than 40 International Paper employees volunteered to help clean up around our local rivers. International Paper is proud to support our community.”


The chapter’s report includes the primary sources of what it says are toxic air emissions. A table on page 24 lists the chemicals acetaldehyde, ammonia, cresol, hydrochloric acid, hydrogen sulfide and methanol coming from the local IP.

Regarding the Toxic Release Inventory, Railey stated:

“The EPA established the Toxic Release Inventory to inform the public about chemical releases in their communities. TRI treats all chemicals equally, regardless of toxicity. This means that the report is a measure of the volume of emissions released, not the effect of those emissions.”

Asked if IP reports those ingredients or does the EPA do inspections to determine the content,” she stated, “The chemical emissions content from various sources within the mill are developed by testing performed by our technical support consultant. These factors are widely used by pulp and paper facilities for reporting purposes throughout the United States.”

Railey continued, “The EPA periodically updates the TRI program, for example including or excluding chemicals for reporting, so it is difficult to make year-to-year emission comparisons. The TRI lists chemical emissions by volume — how much was emitted — not by toxicity of the emissions. If you look solely at TRI numbers, a high-volume release of a less harmful chemical, like methanol (wood alcohol), may incorrectly appear to be more serious than a smaller release of a more toxic chemical.”

The chapter’s full report can be found at