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Health Department Cites HC&S for Air Quality Violations

Posted June 24, 2014, 08:51 AM HST Updated June 24, 2014, 12:25 PM HST
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HC&S Puʻunēnē Mill in Kahului. Photo by Wendy Osher.

HC&S Puʻunēnē Mill in Kahului. Photo by Wendy Osher.

By Wendy Osher

The Hawaiʻi State Department of Health Clean Air Branch today announced that it cited Hawaiian Commercial and Sugar Company for excess emission and reporting violations for alleged incidents between 2009 and 2013 in Puʻunēnē on Maui.

The Notice and Finding of Violation and Order included the assessment of a $1,335,000 fine for the alleged violations.

State health officials say HC&S may request a hearing to contest the violations within 20 days of receiving the order.

Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar has indicated that they will contest the notice. General Manager Rick W. Volner said the DOH reviewed a five-year period (2009 to 2013), and alleges violations related primarily to periods of excess visible emissions and operation of the wet scrubbers installed to control particulate matter emissions from the boiler stacks.

Volner said all incidents were self-reported by HC&S to the DOH prior to DOH’s review, and there is no indication that these deviations resulted in any violation of health-based air quality standards.

He issued a statement saying the following:

“Operation of sugar mill boilers is extremely challenging, particularly when combusting sugarcane fiber (bagasse), which has varying degrees of moisture content. We acknowledge that over the past five years there have been certain deviations from required operating procedures for the facility’s air pollution controls. HC&S recognizes its responsibility to properly operate and maintain its facilities at all times. For over a century, HC&S has placed the highest priority on complying with all environmental regulations applicable to its operations. We have performed a comprehensive review of our air permit compliance program and have implemented corrective actions to address the matters raised in the NFVO. We intend to work closely with the DOH to ensure that any deviations from regulatory standards at the Pu‘unene Mill are promptly resolved,” said Rick W. Volner, General Manager, HC&S.

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The NFVO alleges numerous violations and includes an administrative penalty of $1.3 million, which Volner said HC&S intends to contest. “These violations were unintentional, and the result of operating a very complex milling operation, and we regret that they occurred. However, we also disagree with DOH’s assessment of the number of violations, as we believe many of the cited incidents did not violate any laws. We also believe that the proposed penalty is excessive, particularly given that each of the incidents cited in the NFVO was identified and self-reported by HC&S to DOH. Further, there is no indication that these incidents resulted in violations of health-based air standards. We intend to meet with the DOH as soon as possible to resolve this matter,” said Volner.

According to the state Health Department, it conducted extensive records reviews of the company’s semi-annual reports and other data, in which the department documented more than 400 alleged violations.

The notice includes a four part documentation of findings that can be found at the following direct links: 7  violations; 80 violations; 107 violations; and 220 violations.

The alleged infractions involved a variety of issues including planned shutdowns that occurred to make repairs of fix leaks and situations that resulted in low Dp or flow at the facility with no deviation report filed.

State officials note that the Clean Air Branch is tasked with ensuring that companies comply with state and federal emission standards to minimize air pollution impacts on the public.

This includes the review and approval of air permits, and the evaluation and enforcement of state and federal air standards.

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