Report: West Point ranks high in toxic air emissions levels

jojacobs@tidewaterreview.com

West Point continues to have some of the most toxic air in all of Virginia, according to an national environmental group.

A report compiled by the Sierra Club of Virginia lists the 23181 ZIP code as having the sixth highest in the state for toxic air emissions. The sole source of those emissions is WestRock's paper mill.

The mill discharged 841,034 pounds of emissions into the air in 2015, an 18 percent increase from the previous year, according to the Aug. 2 report.

The ZIP code habitually listed among the Sierra Club's top 10 most toxic.

Data in the report is self-reported by companies to the Environmental Protection Agency. The Sierra Club of Virginia compiled the information and sorted it by zip code to raise awareness of air quality, according to the report.

No other Tidewater communities made the list.

Though 2015 emission levels are an increase from the previous year, over the past decade the mill's emissions levels have dropped 40 percent, WestRock spokesman John Pensec said.

The town mill generated 1.2 million pounds of air emissions in 2010, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

The increase from 2014 can be attributed to fluctuations in production, Pensec said. He also noted that all releases are subject to monitoring, reporting and permit standards on the local, state and federal level.

Hopewell (23860) took the top of the statewide list. The Honeywell International Plant generated 2.2 million of an overall 3.4 million pounds of emissions in the city's air in 2015.

Last year's report, which compiled emission data submitted in 2014, placed West Point in ninth place among the 25 communities with the highest levels of toxic air emissions.

The report also identified the state's top 25 polluting facilities. WestRock's mill was ranked fifth in the list and accounted for all emissions in West Point in 2015. First place was taken by another WestRock facility in Covington, which generated 2.7 million pounds of emissions.

The top three chemicals released by WestRock's town mill by amount are methanol (556,778 pounds), ammonia (111,826 pounds) and hydrochloric acid (65,906 pounds).

Industries that produce more than 25,000 pounds or handle more than 10,000 pounds of certain chemicals must report their activity to the Environmental Protection Agency's Toxics Release Inventory.

The Toxics Release Inventory tracks more than 600 chemicals. In 1988, 95.9 million pounds of emissions were released into the air in Virginia. Companies reported 19.6 million pounds of emissions released in 2015, according to the report.

Jacobs can be reached by phone at 757-298-6007.

WestRock paper mill emission levels

2015: 841,034.

2014: 714,613.

2103: 826,000

2012: 842,822

Source: Sierra Club Virginia Chapter

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