A proposed Perdue plant in Lancaster County has drawn so much ire from York County residents that a hearing on the subject will be held in Hallam instead of a community on the other side of the Susquehanna River.
"Our residents have significant concerns about Perdue," said Mike Martin, chairman of the Hellam Township board of supervisors.
Of the 36 comments the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has received regarding the plant, 25 of those were shared by York County residents, according to DEP spokeswoman Lisa Kasianowitz.
The first letter the department received requesting a public hearing was from Hellam Township supervisors. Others followed from residents of the township, she said.
The DEP will hold a hearing Thursday, Dec. 13, in Hallam.
Hexane: The proposed Perdue soybean-crushing plant slated for Conoy Township would send nearly 246,000 pounds of hexane into the atmosphere every year, according to an application the company submitted to the DEP.
Hexane is federally classified as a hazardous air pollutant - the likes of which the region doesn't need more of, Martin said.
"This region of the country has extremely poor air quality," he said. "We're worried about our residents, our kids and adults who have breathing difficulties."
Until April, York County was listed for three consecutive years among the 25 places in the United States with the worst air quality, according to the American Lung Association's annual State of the Air report. Eight months ago, however, the southcentral Pennsylvania region dropped from the 24th worst to 45th for the area with long-term particle pollution.
The DEP issued an air quality action day for the region on Dec. 1. The designation means young children, the elderly and those with respiratory problems are especially vulnerable to the effects of air pollution and should limit outdoor activities, according to a news release. Air quality action days are usually called during the summer.
The region's air quality could be further affected if Perdue's hexane is a source of volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions, officials said. Hexane is considered to be a major source of VOC emissions, which make ozone worse, and Pennsylvania is already in violation of federal limits on ground-level ozone pollution, according to Tom Hanlon, an official with DEP's Air Quality Program.
Air quality: Hallam and Hellam Township residents are concerned about air quality once the output from the Perdue plant mixes with the output of other nearby facilities, Martin said.
The soybean-crushing plant would be built right across the Susquehanna River in Conoy Township, immediately adjacent to a mass-burn incinerator and downriver from the Brunner Island Power Plant. Both of those facilities emit nitrous oxide.
Another local environmental concern is that the river valley is subject to very frequent temperature changes, which trap those emissions at ground level, causing ozone and smog, officials said.
Prevailing winds will blow the pollution onto Hellam and Manchester townships, York Haven and possibly into York City, officials said.
"Perdue is not being a good neighbor," Martin said. "We're not opposed to the plant - we know it can create jobs - we would just like Perdue to use other means of crushing soybeans than with hexane."
For example, the company could purchase a "scrubber" for $200,000 to $400,000 that would remove a lot of the hexane from the process, he said.
Perdue responds: A spokeswoman at Perdue, a Salisbury, Md.-based chicken producer that logs about $5 billion in annual sales, said she was not sure if the company intends to purchase a scrubber.
"We have been listening to concerns and questions from the community. We will be watching and listening to comments made at the hearing (in Hallam)," said Julie DeYoung, Perdue spokeswoman.
She said Perdue hosted an open house in Conoy Township earlier this year, provided experts to answer questions and invited critics to visit a similar soybean-crushing plant near the company's Maryland headquarters.
In addition to the soybean-crushing facility in Maryland, Perdue also operates such plants in Virginia and North Carolina, and no environmentally hazardous incidents have been reported, she said.
"We have 50 years of experience operating these types of facilities in an environmentally safe way," DeYoung said.
The hearing next week is another step in the process toward permit approval for Perdue's next facility, she said.
It's also a hearing on the final permit needed before opening the $59 million plant next year, DeYoung said.
Martin expects about 60 residents will speak at the hearing next week, sharing their comments about Perdue's environmental stewardship and proposed plant.
"The Susquehanna River is a mile wide. It's often a great divide, and people don't think about what's on the other side," he said. "But when the wind blows, it's not a great divide at all."
The hearing: The state Department of Environmental Protection will hold a hearing at 6 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 13, at the Hellam Fire Co. Hall, 163 E. Market St., Hallam, where comments will be taken on three separate applications:
• DEP's draft approval of Perdue's application to install grain elevator operations and their air emissions.
• Perdue's application for a soybean oil extraction facility and air emission.
• Perdue's plans to install holding tanks containing hexane.
Can't make it? For those unable to attend the meeting, the public can send in written comments regarding Perdue's storage tank application to Eric Lingle, DEP Bureau of Environmental Cleanup and Brownfields, Division of Storage Tanks, P.O. Box 8762, Harrisburg, PA 17105. Comments may also be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written comments regarding the company's air quality application should be mailed to Thomas Hanlon, DEP Air Quality, South-central Regional Office, 909 Elmerton Ave., Harrisburg, PA 17110.
All comments must be submitted by Dec. 17.
-- Candy Woodall can also be reached at email@example.com.