Intel's draft air permit lists several toxins for Ohio plants
Before Intel can start building semiconductor chips at its new central Ohio campus, it needs to show how those massive factories will affect nearby air quality.
The Ohio EPA is gathering public comment on Intel’s draft air permit that identifies toxins that could cause health problems if they exceed certain limits.
The EPA said emissions from the two plants will be within state standards, but some nearby residents are skeptical about living so close to the factories.
Todd Huston moved to Johnstown about a year ago. Huston's family bought land just under a mile away from the Intel site in Licking County. They moved to the area prior to the announcement.
“I was amazed," Huston said. "You go on Google maps and go this is a city. These fab facilities are large. Well, you know what do these things put out?”
Huston’s first concern was the health and safety of his family. He found the book Boiling Frogs: Intel vs. The Village by Barbra Rockwell. It talks about Intel’s 1992 expansion in rural New Mexico and its impact to the environment.
A Time magazine article from January cited residents complaining of a “burnt coffee” smell near the plant in New Mexico and trouble breathing.
His goal was to cut through the misinformation and get to the facts of what these emissions could be.
“You go to Intel and it is all roses and sunshine and they look out for the environment and then you read Boiling Frogs - you think they’re going to poison everybody," Huston said. "For me I guess, the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle.”
The Ohio EPA’s draft air permit is 123-pages of calculations done by consultants with Environmental Resources Management.
Huston said the draft air permit is not a simple coffee table read.
“The wetlands permit was pretty simple," he said. "The air permits are quite challenging and I think that’s why people haven’t said too much about it publicly. You know it’s too much chemistry, there’s lots and lots of data and its hard to comprehend all of it.”
It may be complicated chemistry, but Intel said it comes down to the simple fact that nearby air will be safe. A statement from the company said protecting the environment, their workforce and the community are their top priorities. It also said they meet regularly with neighbors and publicly disclose their environmental impacts on the website exploreintel.com.
The draft identifies at least eight different toxins like particulate matter which can be dust or smoke. The toxins listed in the draft permit were not a surprise to Michael Bisesi, vice dean of Ohio State’s College of Public Health and chair of its environmental sciences division.
“The emissions stated based on the process, there are no surprises these would be the typical kind of emissions that you would expect from the semiconductor industry,” Bisesi said.
The other toxins are nitrous and sulfur oxides, which Bisesi said can cause respiratory issues.
“Initiate a cough or some irritation or may even adversely affect pulmonary function and breathing functions, if the levels were too high,” he said.
But based on Bisesi’s review and the data presented in the permit, he said the emissions should be low enough to meet air quality standards.
“The levels will be low enough that they do not exceed any of the standards relative to health concerns," he said. "The same is true for other elements mentioned in the report.”
The Ohio EPA said that the level of toxins produced by chip production will comply with the Clean Air Act and the National Ambient Air Quality Standard.
Bisesi said if Intel gets its air permit, it must continue to monitor its emissions once the plant is operational using what the EPA said is the best technology available. Air permits can be issued for up to 10 years.
“This isn’t a one-and-done type of situation," he said. "Where the permit is issued and you walk away and assume that the calculations hold. There’s continued responsibility to ensure that the conditions are sustained. That’s an ongoing process as an additional safeguard.”
Back in Licking County, Huston continues to stay in touch with Intel as its plans to move forward. Huston investigated the company’s chip plants in Arizona and has yet to find similar air quality concerns to those that were found in New Mexico.
“The plant has houses literally across the street from it," he said. "There’s hundreds of people, there’s a nursing home within a quarter mile of the facility. I try to look whether its public complaints or things in the newspaper, I don’t find any complaints.”
Huston is still skeptical, but is willing to listen and learn more from Intel.
"I’m coming to a sense that I will feel comfortable staying here," he said. "But at the same time I think we need to work with Intel, a good open communication between the public and Intel in regards to what they’re doing.”
Intel’s current permit application applies to four chip plants, including the first two that will be built by 2025.
Now that the CHIPS Act has passed, it intends to build eight plants by 2030. A ceremonial groundbreaking ceremony for the two plants will be held in the coming weeks with President Joe Biden in attendance.
The public comment period on Intel’s draft air permit ends September 3. A public hearing will be held Aug. 30 in New Albany at the Jersey Baptist Church on Morse Road. Representatives from the Ohio EPA and Intel will be present.
Intel’s draft air permit is available online with the option to download the permit as a PDF.
Intel issued a statement that said the air emissions for the new factories will be within the limits set by the Ohio EPA and will have on-going monitoring when the plans are operational.
"The Ohio EPA sets air emissions limits to ensure human health and safety. Intel will operate within these limits using Best Available Technology and ongoing monitoring. In accordance with Ohio regulations, Intel performed assessments, with support from a third-party consultant, to ensure the installation and use of Best Available Control Technologies and adherence to various air quality standards including National Ambient Air Quality Standards and Ohio EPA Air Toxics Assessment," Intel said in a statement.
Copyright 2022 WOSU 89.7 NPR News. To see more, visit WOSU 89.7 NPR News.