Compliance with environmental regulations is an ongoing challenge for Alabama manufacturers employing procedures or materials that have the potential to pollute air, water or land.
To meet the challenge, many manufacturers enlist environmental services companies who measure, test and consult — helping the manufacturers make sure their products and plants meet or exceed regulations established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) and local authorities.
Most industries contract with outside companies when environmental testing is needed, because test methods can be highly complex, and it’s often more cost effective to contract for the testing than to employ onsite staff, says Lynn Battle, chief of ADEM’s Office of External Affairs. But some larger facilities, such as paper mills, utilities, chemical plants and car manufacturers, employ staff members who conduct testing, she says.
“Environmental consultants are hired by regulated facilities to help the facilities to assure ADEM that the facilities are complying with testing and monitoring requirements contained in their permits and other pertinent regulations, ” Battle says.
Because meeting environmental regulations can be both costly and time consuming, Shannon Riley, founder and chief executive officer of Birmingham-based One Stop Environmental LLC, has the goal of helping her customers do exactly what they need to do to stay in compliance with current standards. “So much has changed in the last 16 years since I opened the business, ” she says. “Regulations have become complicated, and there’s so much ambiguity that we want to help our clients make sure they are doing what they need to do, no less and no more — which could increase their financial burden unnecessarily.”
Riley’s company specializes in environmental testing and the handling and disposal of hazardous materials. Her employees help established manufacturers improve their existing processes and also assist new manufacturers to establish “green” practices early on.
“Some old-school manufacturers have been doing the same things the same way forever, so changing environmental regulations may require some education and making significant changes, ” Riley says. “We help manufacturers focus on quality production down the line.”
Making absolutely sure they are in compliance with environmental regulations is something most Alabama manufacturers don’t take for granted and do understand the value of, agree Ty Bachelor and Chris LeMay, co-presidents of Alliance Source Testing, headquartered in Decatur.
“People just don’t realize how much time, effort and expense manufacturers do put into making sure they protect the environment, ” says LeMay, who is also chief operating officer for the company.
Bachelor, who also serves as chief financial officer, points out that some Alabama manufacturers even go the extra mile, instituting additional controls and programs in their facilities. “They want to make absolutely sure they are in 100 percent compliance all the time, ” he says. “It’s refreshing to see that level of concern.”
Alabama manufacturers must comply not only with federal and state emission standards but also local standards, in the case of Huntsville, Mobile and Jefferson County. “Major metropolitan areas with large residential populations want to ensure their air quality standards are higher than less populated areas, ” LeMay says.
Alliance Source Testing focuses on investigative and compliance emissions and stack testing for facilities in Alabama and throughout the United States. “Stack testing has become much more specialized as have companies that perform the testing. The regulations are much more strict today, and it requires much more time to complete complex testing procedures, ” Bachelor says. “Our teams are always on the road. We typically travel to facilities in 30 to 35 states every year.”
Another resource for manufacturers, Innovative Combustion Technologies of Pelham, offers testing and engineering support to manufacturers, giving them potential solutions to their compliance issues.
“We take pride in the fact that we are coverall and flashlight boiler specialists and engineers that not only provide testing but can follow up with internal inspections, technical direction of repairs and modification or whatever it takes to get results, ” says Richard Storm, president of ICT.
The company specializes in providing assistance to fossil-fired power plants but also provides emissions testing programs for pulp, paper, metals, mining and various manufacturing facilities. “We are frequently called upon as troubleshooters, to identify opportunities for improvement that can be achieved by optimizing the operation, maintenance and function of equipment between the pulverizer and the stack, ” Storm says.
ICT helps coal plants, which have come under increased scrutiny, in finding ways to generate the maximum amount of power, while safely and economically maintaining the lowest emissions possible. “In order to achieve this goal, many plants have made major modifications to combustion equipment, changing their operating practice along with fuel supply, ” Storm says. “Many times, these modifications or changes result in creating a boiler that is less forgiving or non-optimum in performance and produce greater fouling and slagging of the boiler tube surfaces. At ICT, our boiler efficiency tuning program utilizes the technology of thermal imaging in order to find problem areas related to temperature stratification and slag deposit areas in the boiler. With thermal imaging we are able to enhance our ability to find problem zones and lost efficiency.”
ADEM assists manufacturers with compliance issues in many ways, including providing information on specific environmental services companies. “There are many examples of tests and of environmental advice. If department personnel are specifically asked, verification can be given that we have received and reviewed acceptable work from a particular environmental company, ” Battle says.
It is unlikely manufacturer demand for environmental testing and other services will decrease anytime soon. That’s because environmental regulations have become more complex and difficult to interpret in recent years, and that trend is ongoing, Battle says. “EPA continues to develop more and more regulations specific to certain industries. Since the EPA keeps the authority to interpret and grant deviations, understanding these regulations becomes complicated and confusing, ” she says. “Guidance from ADEM and EPA has the potential to be conflicting. Also, complex regulations have various options to obtain compliance, meaning various paths can be taken to obtain compliance.”
As EPA regulations continue to evolve, environmental companies and manufacturers are challenged to stay abreast of them. ADEM coordinates conferences to help industry keep up with current requirements, Battle says. “Also EPA publishes technical updates regarding test methods and other information. Federal register updates are available online, both proposed and promulgated, ” she says.
Kathy Hagood is a freelance contributor to Business Alabama. She is based in Homewood.
Text by KATHY HAGOOD