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Coffee roaster fired up over pollution law

Ryan Skinner says he’s not the type to fight for relaxed air pollution laws.

When opening a North Side organic market and coffee-roasting business last year, he ensured that coffee labels would be printed with soy ink and stuck to biodegradable packages with petroleum-free glue.

Earlier this year, however, he was informed by the Spokane County Air Pollution Control Authority that his coffee-roasting business, FITSGO Coffee, was violating air quality laws and would have to install a device that costs several thousand dollars. The air agency had gotten a complaint about the smell coming from the FITSGO roaster.

Since then, Skinner has urged the agency to relax the rules, and SCAPCA is listening.

“I am the furthest person away from wanting to pollute,” Skinner said. “It’s about having a little bit of common sense.”

Last week, the air authority’s board began examining relaxed coffee-roasting rules for small roasters. The agency currently requires all roasters with machines large enough to vent outdoors to install devices, usually afterburners, to dissipate smoke.

Ron Edgar, SCAPCA’s chief of technical services, said toxic gases are released while roasting coffee, but levels are extremely low. The larger problem is that roasters can fill the air with scents that bug neighbors.

“It’s not really an issue of a health threat to anybody, but it is an issue of nuisance,” Edgar said. “Dark roasts smell like burnt coffee. It’s a lot stronger than just coffee brewing in the room.”

Skinner said when he opened he was unaware of the afterburner requirement, which would cost him between $6,000 and $10,000. Having to buy one likely would mean the end of FITSGO and Skinner’s other business, Humble Earth Natural Market, 4726 N. Oak St., he said.

Last month, Skinner went to the SCAPCA board and requested it adopt regulations similar to air laws in the Seattle area that don’t require afterburners for machines that roast less than 10 pounds of coffee at once.

Skinner said his roaster does only 5 pounds at a time. He added that he has had no problems with neighbors since he installed an improved roaster.

The SCAPCA board is expected to vote on relaxed roasting rules later this summer.

The eight roasting businesses approved for operation in Spokane County likely wouldn’t be affected by the change because they have larger roasters. But the change could open the door to a lot more operators, officials said.

With more machines that roast smaller amounts hitting the market, Edgar said, SCAPCA may start hearing more complaints from neighbors. He noted that proposals for relaxed rules still include provisions that would require roasters to mitigate odors if complaints are filed.

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