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Local Officials Say Air Quality Report Is Misleading

Deskins: USA Today Study, "Very Irresponsible Reporting"


While USA Today, a national newspaper, said the air quality in Archbold schools is among the worst in the nation, local, county, and state officials say there is no need for concern.

The newspaper report, based on computer models, has drawn fire from several local sources.

“The report clearly has no basis,” said Jim Wyse, Archbold mayor.

“The data cited by USA Today’s study is misleading,” said Tom Riscili, president of Fypon.

“To draw conclusions about the safety of the air we breathe based on remote computer models of potential emissions, without taking any local air samples, is misleading and irresponsible,” said Kevin Sauder, president and chief executive officer of Sauder Woodworking.

“It was very disappointing. Very irresponsible reporting on their part,” said David Deskins, superintendent of the Archbold Area School District.

“Much of the data was unfounded,” he said.

First Percentile

USA Today conducted a months-long study of air pollution and schools throughout the nation. Based on its study, the Archbold Elementary School and Archbold High School were in the first percentile for the worst air quality.

USA Today said based on information submitted by companies that utilize toxic chemicals, and computer modeling, there were only 363 schools – out of 127,800- that had lower-quality air than that in the two Archbold schools.

The Archbold Middle School was ranked in the second percentile, indicating only 977 schools out of 127,800 had lower air quality.

Wauseon joined Archbold, with four of five schools, including Emmaus Christian preschool, in the worst 1%. The Leggett Street school fell into the 2nd percentile.

Other Fulton County schools fared better in the USA Today study. Pettisville fell into the eighth percentile; Gorham-Fayette schools were ranked in the 16th and 19th percentiles.

Meeting

USA Today released the news of its study in the Monday and Tuesday, Dec. 8 and 9, editions.

A meeting was held at the Fulton County Health Department with officials of Archbold and Wauseon on Wednesday, Dec. 10.

The following day, Thursday, Dec. 11, a joint statement was released.

The statement said local government and school officials had contacted the companies named as polluters in USA Today’s detailed information on the Internet.

“We have every confidence in the commitment that our industrial partners hold for going above and beyond the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (OEPA) requirements regarding environmental safety,” the statement said.

“The Ohio EPA has been contacted as to whether or not they feel the computer simulation suggested in the article is a credible study, and if they have concern about the safety and security of our students and families in Fulton County.

“In response to this contact, a leading official of the Northwest Ohio EPA Environmental Air Quality Division provided the following opinions:

•”There is no reason for concern in Fulton County.

•”All pollutants they test are within Ohio EPA compliance levels.

•”They see no need for any additional testing to be done.”

Flawed?

The USA Today report has been criticized. Many complain about the newspaper basing its report on a computer model, without actual on-site testing.

Heather Lauer, a spokesman for the OEPA, made several points about the USA Today study.

The study is based on the Toxic Release Inventory, the data that companies report to the OEPA about what chemicals they are releasing, and a computer model known as Risk Screening Environmental Indicators.

The database used in the study dates back about two years, she said.

Plus, the results of RESI do not say what the air quality is, or was, two years ago. Rather, it presents a “worst case scenario” of the potential for pollution.

“Modeling data is not air monitoring,” Lauer said.

“A lot of work went into this piece (the USA Today articles), but it’s not a definitive piece describing air quality around the country.

“It describes what the worstcase scenario would be, with just the right conditions, with this topography, you might just come up with this- in 2005,” she said.

Companies

Two of the companies cited by USA Today as contributors to air pollution in Archbold responded to its article.

In a letter to this newspaper, Riscili said, “I want you to know that Fypon takes very seriously its responsibility to the environment and the community. Our manufacturing operations exceed applicable environmental standards, and we are taking this opportunity to set the record straight.

“The data cited by USA Today’s study is misleading. It astronomically overstates the emissions from our facility in Archbold.

“The study takes into consideration the manufacturing facility’s entire sealed stock of chemical, rather than the emissions that may go into the environment,” he said.

USA Today made particular reference to chemicals known as diisocyanates.

Fypon manufactures molded architectural millwork. Its manufacturing process, “involves mixing of resins and a catalyst and placing the liquid in a sealed mold to harden. The resins used in this process contain several chemicals, including diisocyanates.

“The final product is a solid molded piece of millwork that does not contain diisocyanates.

“Furthermore, the manufacturing process produces only minimal emissions which represent less than .00006% (six one-hundred thousandths) of the diisocyanates we use.

“All of Fypon’s emissions are well within the limits established by the EPA.”

Sauder said most of the chemical emissions USA Today attributes to Sauder Woodworking “are produced in the burning of our wood waste at the power plant.

“But with over $1 million of extra pollution control equipment installed in the power plant, Sauder keeps its emission to well under all state and federal EPA standards.”

Sauder and Lauer agreed on one issue- the USA Today report does not take into account what Lauer called, mobile sources of pollution.

“Cars, buses, trains trucks, boats- they’re constantly burning hydrocarbons and creating emissions,” Lauder said.

“No one in their right mind would believe that the air quality in Archbold or Wauseon is worse than in smog-filled cities like Los Angeles,” Sauder said.

Deskins and Wyse brought up the fact that winds in Archbold are predominately from the west, but Sauder Woodworking and Fypon are east of the Archbold schools. Even if the two firms were a danger, Deskins asked, wouldn’t the prevailing winds protect Archbold Schools?

“How did they miss Pettisville? They’re downwind (of the factories),” Wyse said.

Positive

While there is much criticism of the USA Today report, Lauer did cite a positive aspect.

With cutbacks in newsrooms across the nation, the media has been cutting environmental stories, she said.

The USA Today report “calls attention to concerns nationwide about air toxics,” she said.


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