Toxic health effects of Chesterfield, Hopewell plants, not known - NBC12 - WWBT - Richmond, VA News On Your Side

Toxic health effects of Chesterfield, Hopewell plants, not fully known

While thousands of families live within blocks of Virginia's top polluters, an NBC12 investigation uncovers the health effects from plants across the Commonwealth are not fully known, studied, or understood.

Three of Virginia's top polluters are found within Chesterfield and Hopewell, according to the latest data filed with the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.

Honeywell International in Hopewell, Philip Morris USA in Chester, and Dominion's Chesterfield Power Station are among the top ten contributors of toxic pollutants within Virginia.

Chesterfield and Hopewell also rank among the state's top three municipalities for highest levels of toxic chemical releases. Chesterfield ranks second, while Hopewell ranks third.

Montgomery County in western Virginia ranks first, largely because of the Radford Army Ammunitions Plant.

But while the types and tons of chemicals are meticulously measured, it is not fully known how the mixture of toxic pollutants affects the health of people who live nearby.

"We just don't have the specific data, the specific information that would give us those details," said Bill Hayden, spokesperson for Virginia's DEQ. "Our report doesn't give information about health concerns. It just gives the amounts of the chemicals."

Andrea Hackney has a family of seven, and lives blocks away from Hopewell's Honeywell International plant. Honeywell is now in the process of paying Virginia and the federal government more than $3.7 million for failing to control toxic pollutants at its Hopewell site.

"If we don't know what these chemicals are doing to people who are breathing in the stuff, that could be pretty devastating," Hackney said in an interview. "Somewhere, somebody should be able to come up with some kind of funding, to be able to do some tests."

But DEQ says testing to determine the health impacts from Virginia's top polluters would be an impractical undertaking, with an enormous price tag and level of difficulty.

"It's a very complex issue," Hayden said. "Health effects can be different for each chemical, and there are hundreds of chemicals on the list."

The majority of chemical release data are estimated by each chemical facility, rather than independently measured by the state.

Numbers are then recorded in Virginia's Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) Report, cataloging the quantity and release points of toxic pollutants.

"These are the ones that can cause significant health problems, or even cancer in some cases," Hayden said. "Or some other environmental concern."

According to an analysis of the latest TRI Report, one fifth of Virginia's toxic chemicals are released from Chesterfield and Hopewell.

In addition to taking action against Honeywell in Hopewell, DEQ has also cited the City's Hercules chemical plant for emissions of hazardous air pollutants. The Department does not have a specific schedule for steps needed to address the emissions, but has fined Hercules $175,000.

Hercules defends its recent record, saying in a statement that DEQ has found no issues since November 2012.

"In April 2013, we conducted performance testing of pollution control equipment to ensure its operating at more than 99 percent efficiency, as required," said Gary L. Rhodes, director of communications for Hercules' parent company, Ashland Inc.

Dominion Power is also in the process of complying with an order to improve emissions of nitrogen dioxides and sulfur dioxide. The company's Chesterfield Power Station on the banks of the James River currently ranks seventh for highest toxic chemical releases.

The Power Station has been compliant with clean air laws in recent years, and has reported falling emissions. According to DEQ, Dominion's Chesterfield site is on schedule to make emissions improvements, with the company spending nearly $60 million to improve the facility.

"Despite what seem like large numbers, all the releases are in compliance with regulations drafted to protect human health," said Dominion Spokesperson Dan Genest. "[Pollutants] are released in very small concentrations over the course of the year."

After violating federal emissions limits in 2009, DEQ reports compliance changes at Honeywell's Hopewell plant will take until 2018.

"As part of that effort, the Hopewell facility last year began installing eight emission control systems at a total cost of roughly $70 million," said Honeywell spokesperson Peter Dalpe. "When the project its completed in 2018, the systems will reduce emissions of nitrogen oxide at the plant by roughly 6,000 tons per year."

While emission levels will continue to be monitored, potential health impacts will remain unknown.

Answers about health concerns will remain elusive for thousands, but as for Hackney and her family, she says her actions in the coming weeks will be decisive.

"We're moving," Hackney said. "I'm headed to Dinwiddie, a move I've wanted to make, but I'm now making faster."

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