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Clearing the air: The facts of Fiber-Fab

by: TYLER FRANCKE - Fiber-Fab, located on the corner of Highway 99E and Douglas Avenue in Gervais, is pictured last week.It’s not every day that a report by a federal government organization raises eyebrows on the Gervais City Council, but that happened earlier this month, following the publication of the annual Toxic Release Inventory by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The annual report by the EPA is a compilation of data related to the management of certain toxic chemicals that may pose a threat to human health and the environment. Several regional media outlets covered the inventory as it pertains to local facilities, and Fiber-Fab LLC — a Gervais-based manufacturer of shower stalls and bathtubs — was reported to be the “top polluter” in Marion County.

According to the EPA, Fiber-Fab released 72,907 pounds of toxic chemicals to the environment in 2012, far outpacing any other local companies included in the inventory. Its primary pollutant is styrene, a chemical used in the production of certain plastics and resins, which can affect the nervous system of individuals exposed to high levels of the gas.

A Gervais city councilor presented a copy of one of the media reports on the inventory during the city’s most recent meeting.

“I thought it was interesting,” Mayor Shanti Platt said afterward. “We might want to make it a topic of conversation.”

Fortunately, data provided by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, which permits, regulates and oversees emissions by Fiber-Fab, appear to show no cause for concern regarding public health and safety.

Karen White-Fallon, permit inspector for Oregon DEQ-Salem Air Quality, said the styrene releases emitted by the facility are well within safe levels. She said a 2004 DEQ analysis estimated the “fence-line” exposure level from this facility (i.e., the accumulation expected if one were living 300 feet away) at .003 parts per million (ppm).

The safe exposure level for an eight-hour work day, as determined by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, is much, much higher than that: 100 ppm. It is not until styrene exposure crosses this threshold that it would cause harmful effects (which include headaches, drowsiness, eye irritation, and in long-term cases, nervous system depression).

Unlike many other gases, styrene has a very low odor threshold: Its smell can be detected in the air at a saturation of only .32 ppm — still well below harmful levels.

Interestingly, styrene is also emitted from common building materials, consumer products, tobacco smoke and automobile exhaust.

According to the EPA, ambient air in urban locations contains styrene concentrations of between .068 and .8 ppm, which is higher than the fence-line exposure rate of Fiber-Fab.

“Certainly, we wouldn’t permit a facility if we thought there were any adverse effects,” Fallon-White said. “We have evaluated the air quality impacts from the emissions of Fiber-Fab and have determined that they would not have an adverse effect on human health or the environment.”

This is not the first time local officials have expressed concerns about the facility. In 2004, DEQ representatives met with former Gervais School District Superintendent Larry Glaze and two school staff members to discuss their fears regarding the facility’s proximity to Gervais High School.

“(DEQ) has come to the conclusion that no adverse impacts to the health of students or staff will result from exposure to styrene at the levels that have been emitted or may be emitted to the air from Fiber-Fab,” Senior Air Quality Specialist Jim Boylan wrote at the time.

Reached last week, Fiber-Fab President Walt Mulvey declined to comment for this story.




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