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Veolia halts burning in Port after releasing mercury gas PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 09 August 2017 19:02

Emissions detected as far away as Rhinelander blamed on malfunction

   The mercury recycling operation at Veolia’s City of Port Washington plant has been closed since July 5, when an equipment failure sent mercury vapors into the air, officials said.
    The amount of mercury released was below allowable levels, Department of Natural Resources officials said this week, and did not pose a health risk.
    “They were not elevated to a level that would cause alarm,” said Andrew Stewart, field operations director for the DNR’s air management program.
    Kevin Shaver, general manager at the plant at 1275 Minerals Springs Dr., said the mercury recycling operation was shut down on July 5 when a monitoring system in the room where the mercury recovery system operates detected a problem.
    Veolia burns items containing mercury, typically light bulbs or, in this case, dental amalgam, then captures the mercury through a filtering system after the element is vaporized, he said.  
    The company immediately shut down the oven, which burn at 1,100 degrees, Shaver said, noting the firm had to wait until the following day, after the oven had cooled, to inspect it.
    The following day, the DNR’s ambience air monitors as far away as Rhinelander and as close at Potawatomi in Milwaukee detected elevated levels of mercury, said Katie Praedel, air monitoring section chief for the DNR. The highest levels were at the agency’s Horicon station.
    The DNR checks the 40 monitoring stations in the state, which are extremely sensitive, every morning, she said.
    Normally, the DNR expects to see anomalies in the air on July 5 because of the many fireworks displays on the Fourth of July, she noted.
    The DNR used modeling to help determine the origin of the mercury, Praedel said, and after determining Veolia might be the source, officials contacted the company. There aren’t many mercury processing stations in the state, she added.
    By then, Shaver said, the company had already shut down the system because higher than expected levels were found in the processing room.  
    The company’s stack detection system did not show a release above the levels allowed in its permit, he noted.
    “There was a disruption in the piping in one of the (mercury recovery) units,” Shaver said.
    Veolia immediately inspected its equipment and found a hose had failed, Praedel said.
    The failure was in such a place that the plant’s emission detection system didn’t detect it, she added.
    The company estimated about 1.5  pounds of vaporized mercury was released, Stewart said.
    By comparison, he said, power plants are allowed to release more than 100 pounds of mercury annually.
    The mercury released from the plant was vaporized, a form of mercury that is not as much of a health concern as the methylmercury often found in lakes and fish — especially not at the levels that were released from the plant, Praedel said.
    “It’s below the levels that would cause inhalation health effects,” Stewart said.
    According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, inhalation of high concentrations of mercury vapor for relatively brief periods can cause severe lung damage.
    Shaver said the company is working with the DNR as it repairs and upgrades its system before restarting the operation.
    The goal, he said, is not to release mercury but to recycle it.
    Veolia’s Port Washington plant processes light bulbs — as many as 40,000 a day, Shaver said — as well as other items that contain mercury, such as dental amalgam.
    The firm also disassembles electronics at the Port plant, then sends the parts to other plants for recycling, he said.
    Items dropped off at the plant under its household hazardous waste program, with the exception of light bulbs, are also sent to other plants for recycling or disposal.
    The DNR is continuing to investigate the incident, Stewart added.
    “We want to make sure it doesn’t happen again, and the company is taking steps to ensure it doesn’t happen again,” Stewart said.

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Last Updated on Wednesday, 09 August 2017 19:03