In the heat and acrid haze of Kaiser Aluminum and Chemical Corp.’s vast Trentwood rolling mill, 10 roaring furnaces belch molten metal that’s cooled into giant ingots of pure aluminum.
The 500 million pounds of aluminum forged here each year means a $90 million payroll and a $335 million jolt for Spokane’s economy.
But the 53-year-old, World War II-era factory also belches pollution, adding to the grit that causes Spokane to flunk federal air pollution standards for particulates.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency wants Kaiser to reduce its emissions, and is using its legal clout to make sure it happens.
In a major precedent, Trentwood will become the first aluminum plant in the country required to install furnace baghouses - giant vacuum cleaners that collect emissions that would otherwise be released to the air.
Under a proposed legal agreement, Kaiser will complete a $20 million program at Trentwood by February 1997 to install environmental controls.
“It makes sense to get this process fixed. It will help Spokane’s air quality,” said Pat Blau, Trentwood environmental engineering supervisor, during a recent visit to the rolling mill.
The upgrade also involves process changes at Kaiser’s Mead smelter. Kaiser has spent $4 million to treat primary aluminum at Mead to minimize the use of chlorine and further reduce emissions, said Kaiser spokeswoman Susan Ashe.
Although it hasn’t admitted any wrongdoing, Kaiser will pay a $500,000 fine for violating federal opacity standards at Trentwood. That’s the density of smokestack emissions allowed into the air at one time.
The agreement, announced Oct. 30, concludes years of negotiations over regulators’ concerns with alleged opacity violations at Trentwood from May 1990 to May 1991.
Both sides have put their spin on the pact during the 30-day public comment period.
“We are well under way in our efforts to solve visible emissions, which were in no way a threat to human health or the environment,” said Ray Milchovich, president of Trentwood’s flat-rolled products division.
The agreement “should send a strong, clear message that violations of the Clean Air Act will not be tolerated,” said Lois Schiffer, an assistant attorney general with the U.S. Justice Department in Washington, D.C.
Kaiser won’t be allowed to write off the half-million dollar fine on its federal taxes, according to the pact, which becomes legally binding after it’s reviewed by a federal judge.
Trentwood’s new emissions controls also will include automated monitors to measure for opacity. Violations will have to be reported monthly to the Spokane County Air Pollution Control Authority.
EPA’s powers over Kaiser’s emissions come from the federal Clean Air Act.
The law says areas like Spokane that flunk air quality standards must clean up industry, curtail wood stoves on bad air days, use cleaner-burning gas in winter, pave streets and increase mass transit to clean up the air.
The consent decree can be re viewed at the office of the U.S. attorney, Suite 300, U.S. Federal Bldg., 920 W. Riverside, Spokane.