KINGSPORT, Tenn. (WJHL) – An “unpermitted emission point” that released up to 1,800 pounds of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) — primarily methanol — was among spots at Eastman Chemical Company that released above permitted amounts of pollutants starting early Jan. 31 after a steam line failure caused a power outage.
Without power at the massive plant, several scrubbers that limit the level of pollutants became inoperable and two other points with no permits released emissions. Eastman reports about the releases pointed to various breakdowns caused by the accident, which citizens reported hearing from several miles away and which scattered asbestos pipe insulation across a nearby neighborhood.
The incidents are detailed in six separate “Title V Prompt Deviation Reports” to the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC). The required reports — one Feb. 1 and a supplement Feb. 7 — show emissions above permitted limits for 29 hours at three scrubber sites, 37 hours at a fourth permitted scrubber site, and releases at the two unplanned emission points.
The largest reported emissions came from the unpermitted emission point that released nearly a ton of VOCs and methanol. It came after an emergency shutdown of Eastman’s glycol processes and the opening of automatic valves to relieve pressure on the system.
One valve had to be left open as it is “located on a group of reactors that were plugged with material during the process shutdown and still have the potential to build pressure due to the plugging,” the brief report on that release reads.
That pressure made it unsafe to shut the valve and the report estimated emissions were 37.5 pounds per hour of VOCs and methanol until early Feb. 2 — almost exactly 48 hours after the steam line failure. At that point, Eastman technical contact Alex Reeder wrote, the system was thought to have cooled below the mixture’s boiling point and from then on all emissions were “minimal.”
At the time of the report, Eastman operations staff were still evaluating when it would be safe to shut the relief valve.
The largest excess emissions at a permitted site were at an “Azeo Vent Scrubber” that normally uses catalytic oxidation and distillation to decrease VOC levels prior to emission. Those processes failed and even though the plant wasn’t in operation, “non-working tank emissions” passed through a vent connected to the non-functioning Azeo scrubber.
The report describes that “event” as lasting 37 hours, until 8:30 p.m. Feb. 1. While crews worked to restore water flow to the scrubber, the vent released an estimated 1,164 pounds of VOCs above its 11.32 pound-per-hour permit limit — 42.79 pounds hourly.
The estimated amounts of excess emissions for the other three permitted release points were much lower than what came from the relief valve. All told they amounted to about 59 pounds of VOCs and methanol.
The second unpermitted emission occurred after the steam line failure severely damaged a temporary flare and “associated piping,” rending the flare inoperable. That triggered the opening of a bypass valve that routed emissions to a scrubber that didn’t have permits for those types of emissions.
Eastman spokesman Brad Lifford said Friday that problem was resolved Wednesday morning.
Lifford said emissions from the release valve issue are the only ongoing ones, but with the manufacturing processes there still down for repair, the equipment “is venting small amounts of nitrogen” that contain trace amounts of processing materials.
“Because the processes are down and cool, these emissions are well below permissible limits that can occur during normal operations,” Lifford said.