UPDATE: August 1, 2016
The Idaho Conservation League issued a statement Monday, backpedaling on its earlier assertion that a Magic Valley plastic bag manufacturer was violating Environmental Protection Agency rules.
On July 25, ICL officials had accused Hilex Poly, a subsidiary of Novolex, of not properly reporting to government regulators the levels of all of its emissions from the plant.
But now the ICL says, after communciating with Novolex officials and reviewing the company's data, the environmental group said it was "mistaken in its initial assessment and now understands Novolex's Jerome facility is in compliance."
"We have full confidence [Novolex's] other facilities are also in compliance with the EPA reporting requirements that we were concerned about," said ICL Conservation Assistant Austin Hopkins, adding that after a joint review of the company's environmental health and safety program, it determined that emissions levels are substantially below reporting thresholds.
And Novolex Senior Director of Sustainability Phil Rozenski said, "There is no doubt that ICL and Novolex share the common core value of promoting the safety of our employees and the communities we work in."
ORIGINAL STORY: July 25, 2016
The Idaho Conservation League is accusing a Magic Valley plastic bag manufacturer of violating federal law by not disclosing the volume of chemical emissions coming from the company's Jerome facility.
ICL Conservation Assistant Austin Hopkins said Hilex Poly, a subsidiary of Novolex, one of the world's largest makers of plastic bags, has not been reporting to government regulators the levels of all of its emissions from the plant.
“Firstly, citizens have a right to know what’s in the air they breathe,” he said. “Second, first responders and firefighters need to know what chemicals are on sight so they can proceed safely.”
Officials with Dallas, Texas-based Novolex told Boise Weekly the company is in full compliance with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
"All of our testing has shown that our Jerome facility is not exceeding any threshold that would require a filing of a Form-R," said Mark Daniels, senior vice president of Sustainability and Environmental Policy for Novolex. Form-R is a formal notification to the EPA regarding the release of toxic substances into the atmosphere.
Novolex opened its Hilex Poly plant in Jerome in 2004 and it has since undergone several expansions—the most recent in 2015, when it poured $6.5 million into the facility and added 45 new jobs for a total workforce of approximately 170 employees. The company is receiving about $530,000 in state tax credits through 2030, during which time Idaho officials estimate the expansion will yield new state revenue to the tune of $4.5 million.
The issue caught the ICL’s attention in late 2015, when Novolex applied for a new air permit for its Jerome facility from the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality. That triggered the DEQ to open the permit application for public comment.
“After hearing about that, we did some digging,” said Hopkins. “Through state reports, we found that there were 18 [Novolex-affiliated] facilities potentially in violation of EPCRA.”
- Idaho Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter toured Jerome's Hiley Poly facility in October 2009.
“I can’t exactly tell you how much material is being released from Novolex facilities,” said Hopkins. “If companies submitted the information, we could pull up the numbers right now.”
Hopkins said even minimal exposure to chemicals such as ammonia for short amounts of time could cause minor burning and irritation in the lungs, but exposure over the course of years could cause a “chronic degradation to the respiratory system.” Children, the elderly and individuals with asthma would be the most at risk.
“So let’s say someone comes down with respiratory issues and he just moved to Boise after living in Jerome for 10 years,” said Hopkins. “If the patient knew what kind of chemicals he had been exposed to, this information could help his health care provider narrow down the cause and resulting diagnosis. A diagnosis is always better than an unknown.”
ICL announced July 25 that it was filing a 60-day Notice of Intent, threatening to sue Novolex and its subsidiaries, including Hilex Poly, over alleged violations of EPA rules.
Novolex officials, however, insist it's doing nothing wrong.
"We make every effort to comply with the Environmental Protection Agency, state and local authorities, and that includes all filings," said Daniels, speaking from the company's Dallas headquarters. "As soon as we become aware of any incident where we are meeting or exceeding any threshold, we work to fulfill full legal and regulatory compliance."
That's still not good enough for ICL.
“We all breathe,” said Hopkins. “So we all have a right to know what’s in our air.”