MDEQ Approves Permit for Polar Environmental in Ferndale
The Air Quality Division has responded to public comments and questions in a document now available online.
The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality recently approved the proposed permit to install for Polar Environmental Service Corp.
Polar, which is located at 707 E. Lewiston in Ferndale, handles the disposal and recycling of nonhazardous waste oil and wastewater. The MDEQ began taking a closer look at the facility and required it to apply for a permit after a Dec. 2, 2011 steam release that concerned hundreds of area residents.
In late September, about 25 people from Ferndale and Pleasant Ridge attended an MDEQ hearing on the permit, where residents and city leaders expressed comments and concerns about the facility and proposed permit.
Residents had concerns over strong odors coming from Polar, and Ferndale Fire Chief Kevin Sullivan said residents have failed to report possible gas leaks because they assumed the smell was from Polar. Other comments were about how the MDEQ would monitor the facility and prevent future steam release incidents.
As part of the permitting process, the MDEQ Air Quality Division responded to each of the comments. You can download the full list of comments and responses here.
Polar's permit allows for the operation of a treatment, storage, and disposal facility for waste oils, water, and coolants that are not hazardous waste.
You can read more about the Polar permit and its conditions, which include an Odor Management Plan, at this fact sheet provided by the MDEQ.
MDEQ has limitations, permit engineer says
Paul Schleusener, permit engineer with the MDEQ's Air Quality Division, said residents who spoke out against the permit approval should know that the department has limitations.
"We've reviewed every one of those comments, I read every one of those documents. I listened again to the whole hearing record," he said. "We take these things very seriously. Unfortunately sometimes ... people have concerns and we simply can't address them."
Schleusener said there can be odors that exist that are not in violation of the law, and in some cases the MDEQ has been on site when odors are reported "and when we get there there's nothing we can identify as a problem."
"It's very frustrating for people when that happens," he said. "There's only so much we can do. The law doesn't give us the authority to say thou shall not cause any bad odor ever."
The MDEQ is satisfied that the emissions from Polar "meet standards that are protective of health," Schleusener said.
"I think the thing you would see in the Response to Comments document is we have boundaries of what we can do," he said. "We don't have the freedom to consider popular opinion in our reviews. That's not always pleasant to people who feel that they've been bothered."
He said the department tried to be clear and direct in their comment responses. Going forward, anyone who has concerns about an odor from the facility or other concerns should contact the MDEQ at 586-753-3700 during business hours and 800-292-4706 after business hours.
"We want people to call us when they are smelling things they think should be addressed," Schleusener said.
Residents who smell gas or suspect a possible gas leak should always call the Fire Department first and should not assume a smell is from Polar, he said.
"That's a serious safety issue and we try to make that point more than once in the Response to Comments," he said.
Polar report: Steam release was 'not a threat'
A report released by Polar in February said the steam release last year was “not a threat to the health of the public” and should not happen again with new safeguards put in place.
The incident occurred after an employee at the facility forgot to turn off the heat in a tank that was heating oil, and the result was an odor that spread through north Ferndale, Pleasant Ridge, Berkley and Royal Oak.
Chris Ethridge, environmental manager with the DEQ's air quality division, said in January that testing done by the state could not address exactly what type of emissions were released because they were not on site to measure it.
Following the incident, the DEQ cited Polar and notified the company that it would need to apply for a permit. Polar had been operating under an exemption, Ethridge said, but it needed a permit “based on the fact that they overheated some of this oil and could no longer meet criteria for that exemption.”
In addition to setting emission limits, the permit will help the DEQ ensure compliance at the facility, he said.