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Air sampling doesn't find serious health hazards

By Larry Limpf
Press News Editor

TOLEDO - Sampling of the air around the Sunoco, Inc. refinery during a three-month span didn't reveal a level of contaminants considered to be a serious health hazard to area residents, but the agency which conducted the sampling acknowledges it was limited in scope and levels of sulfur dioxide should be further monitored.

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry presented the results of its sampling to the public last week during sessions held Tuesday and Wednesday at the East Toledo Family Center.

The agency set up two air monitoring stations to the east and west of the refinery. Sampling was conducted from Oct. 29 of last year to Jan. 28.

Jennifer Freed, an ATSDR environmental health scientist, said the sampling recorded levels of volatile organic compounds, sulfur dioxide, and hydrogen sulfide.

Only sulfur dioxide levels approached the standard considered sufficient to cause adverse health effects in persons with asthma problems, Ms. Freed said.

"We don't have a real straight answer for that," she said. "It's something we need to keep our eye on."

According to an ATSDR fact sheet, exposure to very high levels of sulfur dioxide can be life threatening and exposure to 100 parts per million is considered "immediately dangerous to life and health."

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has set an air quality standard of 0.03 ppm for long-term, one-year average concentrations of sulfur dioxide and short-term, 24-hour air concentrations should not exceed 0.14 ppm more than once a year. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has set a limit of 2 ppm over an 8-hour work day, 40-hour work week.

The ATSDR's east monitoring station recorded maximum levels of sulfur dioxide averaging only 62 parts per billion (ppb) during a 24-hour period while the west station recorded maximum 24-hour average levels of 21 ppb.

Hydrogen sulfide is the most likely cause of noxious odors emanating from the refinery, Ms. Freed said, adding it can be smelled a low levels and smells "like rotten eggs."

She said the monitoring stations didn't detect any levels of hydrogen sulfide above five ppb.

The stations also sampled for 71 chemicals considered volatile organic compounds such as benzene, toluene, and freon. Twenty-four hour samples were conducted once a week and grab samples were conducted by local residents. Although the east station detected levels of freon ranging from 7.2 to 47 ppb the sampling couldn't identify the source.

Ms. Freed station said the east station, located on residential property between Pickle Road and Navarre Avenue and west of Wheeling Road, recorder higher levels of all chemicals - a likely result of prevailing winds. The other station was located west of the refinery, also between Navarre and Woodville, and east of White Street.

Some residents, however, said a station should have been located north of the refinery because many residents in that neighborhood have complained of odors and ailments such as sore throats.

Ms. Freed conceded air contamination at the refinery could vary with the seasons and operations at the facility. She also said emissions from a tank farm along the eastern boundary of the Sun property probably weren't detected.

Residents will have 30 days to comment on the study and their remarks will be included in the ATSDR's report, called a health consultation, of the sampling.

About 20 residents attended the Tuesday evening session. Sun management and residents also met with the agency Wednesday afternoon.

Olivia Summons, public affairs director for Sunoco, said the company set up a neighborhood task force last autumn to try to address the concerns of residents.

The task force is an off-shoot of a community advisory panel that's been in place for about five years and includes residents living within several miles of the refinery. The panel meets monthly, Ms. Summons said.


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