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LG&E Fined by Metro Government for Coal Ash Contamination

A coal ash cloud forms above LG&E's Cane Run Power Station after an equipment malfunction Saturday evening. Photo by Greg Walker. Metro Government has fined Louisville Gas & Electric for letting coal ash leave the Cane Run Power Station and contaminate nearby homes.

Two weeks ago, LG&E released test results that found ash on three area homes. Now, the city has fined the company $4,000 for violating the district’s fugitive dust rule.

The Air Pollution Control District has already met with the company and will decide internally whether the fine is sufficient. APCD spokesman Matt Stull says there could be other penalties for the violation.

“There also might be steps that are taken in regard to remediating the situation and trying to make sure it doesn’t happen again in the future,” he said. “That’s a goal of the district, to try and not just punish a source but also to make sure that this kind of thing doesn’t happen in the future.”

The case is complicated by a mechanical malfunction over the weekend that sent clouds of ash into the sky. The company shut down its sludge processing plant, which is a machine that mixes coal ash with lime to create a cement-like substance called Pozotec.

LG&E Spokeswoman Chris Whelan says the machine has been shut down indefinitely, and the company has formed a task force to determine the problem.

“We regret that there’s been any incident in that area,” she said. “The neighbors, we’re mindful of their concerns there and that’s the reason that we have assigned a task force to ensure that we get this equipment fixed and that we’re being a good neighbor.”

This new incident may be included in the previous complaint, which the APCD has done in the past.

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Louisville Experiences 12th Air Quality Alert

The Air Pollution Control District has issued an Air Quality Alert for Wednesday and Thursday in Louisville.

This is already Louisville’s 12th Air Quality Alert, compared to 19 all of last year.  There were only four the year before that.

“Especially with ozone, heat and sunlight are needed to form ozone at the ground level,” Matt Stull of the Air Pollution Control District said.   “So, when we see days with hot and humid conditions and combine that with stagnant air, you combine that with emissions from tailpipes, you have a buildup of ozone.”

With a weather forecast predicting more hot weather, it’s likely to cause more alerts.

“We’re looking at high temperature in the mid 90s and continuing on Thursday, maybe low 90s on Friday,” Ryan Sharp of the National Weather Service said.  “And Sunday Monday and Tuesday all look to be in the mid 90s.”

The air in Louisville is currently categorized as “unhealthy for sensitive groups.”  People with asthma, children and the elderly could be affected, and are encouraged to limit their time outdoors.

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Environment Local News

LG&E Releases Contradictory Coal Ash Report

Louisville Gas & Electric has released a second study on coal ash. It follows another that showed the company is possibly in violation of pollution laws. LG&E says this second report is more accurate, but it might not matter in the long run.

People who live near the Cane Run Power Station have complained that fly ash is leaving the landfill and contaminating their homes. The first report, released earlier this week by LG&E, confirmed there were high concentrations of fly ash on their houses.

Now, LG&E has released a second report that relies on a different type of dust sampling. The first test collected dust directly off homes. The second collected dust passively from the air and found much lower concentrations of fly ash.

LG&E spokeswoman Chris Whelan says the results of the second test are more in line with what the company believes is happening at the plant.

“They’re not anomalies, they’re actually normal samples. Whereas the ones under the covered areas were really just kind of unexplainable for us.”

Louisville Metro Air Pollution Control District spokesman Matt Stull says the city will have to look at both reports before it decides whether remedial action is necessary. He says there could have been environmental factors that affected the passive dust sampling, something he says LG&E mentioned when they passed along the report.

“They indicated that day to us that it might have been conducted when there were days of a lot of rain and that would certainly affect how much fly ash is leaving their property, if any.”

LG&E is permitted to release a certain amount of ash out of their smokestack, and a very small amount of ash from their landfill and storage pond. But Stull says the city’s fugitive emissions rule would supersede the company’s permit, and particulate matter isn’t allowed to leave a worksite or pose a nuisance to neighbors.

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Environment Local News

Fireworks Light Up Louisville’s Pollution Monitors

Some parts of Louisville sounded like a war zone last weekend as fireworks laws were relaxed and residents celebrated the Fourth of July holiday. But all of those fireworks contributed to some of the area’s air quality problems.

There are two main kinds of air pollution: fine particle and ozone. Louisville has been having a number of problems with ozone lately, but this weekend there was also a higher amount of particle pollution in the air from fireworks.

Louisville Metro Air Pollution Control District spokesman Matt Stull says the high level isn’t necessarily caused by the city’s official fireworks, but it seems the sheer number of people lighting explosives over the weekend helped push the reading over the threshold.

“In most cases we’re talking about the amount of people that do them on their own, because we don’t generally see much of an elevated level say for Thunder Over Louisville or if there’s a fireworks show in town,” he said.

Federal law says the city’s particle pollution can’t exceed a certain amount—in this case, it’s 35 micrograms of pollution per cubic meter. On July 3, one of the air monitors picked up a reading that exceeded the standard by 10 percent.

Stull says some of the city’s monitors can tell what kind of pollution contributed to the bad air. This is helpful, because it can help the city petition the Environmental Protection Agency to declare the day was an “exceptional event.”

“In the case of I think 2006, we were able to get the 4th of July omitted from our submission, because the speciation data showed it was 80 to 90 percent fireworks,” Stull said.

The city also has asked for “exceptional event” status for other reasons, like when pollution from wildfires nears Louisville.

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Environment Local News

Heat Wave Contributes to Poor Air Quality

by Chris McDaniel

Despite predictions that this summer would be milder than usual, Louisville has been experiencing temperatures reaching the mid 90s.  The Climate Prediction Center made the original forecast, and the center still holds that the heat will plateau as the summer goes on.  Ryan Sharp from the National Weather Service says Louisville residents should be thankful for this year’s wet spring.

“Actually it’s helping to keep us a little bit cooler,” Sharp said. “We’re still soaking up and drying out some of the moisture that’s in the soil.  We were talking about that earlier this morning, that if we were browner around here, temperatures would be in the upper 90s to 100 with the heat wave we’ve had.”

These high temperatures have been contributing to air quality alerts for Louisville.  The city is currently classified as “unhealthy for sensitive groups.”

“Heat is a major factor,” Matt Stull from the Air Pollution Control Board said. “The main factors though, for the formation of ozone are cloudless skies, winds that calm to the point of almost being still, and then also the amounts of pollution that are coming in.  When you have the combination of all three of those, you’re going to have higher ozone.”

Stull says these readings are earlier than usual.

“Generally we have the bulk of the air quality alerts in July and August, so since we haven’t really hit summer yet, this is early,” Stull said. “But, that can also vary from year to year.  Last year we had a couple of days in April when we saw higher ozone levels and had to issue alerts.”

Stull advises the elderly and those with asthma to limit their activity to the early morning hours to avoid the buildup of ozone during the early to late evening.

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Environment Local News

New Smog Standards Pose Problem for L'ville

While Louisville struggles to come into compliance with current Environmental Protection Agency standards for smog, the U.S. agency is proposing even stricter standards.  Smog, or ground level ozone, forms when vehicle and other emissions react in sunlight.  It can aggravate lung problems and has been linked to premature deaths.  Metro Air Pollution Control District spokesman Matt Stull says attaining an “in compliance” rating from the EPA on the new standard will take time.

“In the release from the EPA they say that attainment could be based and probably will be based on some technologies that aren’t even developed yet.  So, you know, we’re hopeful that those come out and will help us to reach whatever number is proposed.”

The EPA is holding public meetings on the proposed new standards in early February.

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Environment Local News

Jefferson County Not Meeting Soot Standards

The Environmental Protection Agency has declared several counties in Kentucky and Indiana to be out of compliance with federal standards for fine particle air pollution, or soot.  Jefferson is one of those counties.  But Louisville Air Pollution Control District spokesman Matt Stull says the city has been looking into ways to reduce this pollution for several years.  And he says state regulators had hoped to avoid the EPA ruling because of progress already made.

“There were significant enough what they call exceptional events that we shouldn’t necessarily be held responsible for, such as wildfires blowing in, soot from other areas, as well as events like the 4th of July where there was a significant amount of particle pollution from fireworks, kind of outlier days, if you will,” says Stull.

Fine particles are much smaller than the width of a human hair.  They can lodge in the lungs and enter the bloodstream.  And they can aggravate lung and heart conditions.  The state will now have to develop a plan for EPA approval to reduce those particle levels by 2014.