March 19, 2002 11:00 pm

By Alice Perry Linker

Observer Staff Writer

Two Boise Cascade mills in Union County are part of a nationwide settlement reached by the giant timber company and two federal agencies following charges of air pollution.

The Elgin plywood mill and the Island City particleboard plant were among five mills that agreed to pay a civil penalty totaling $4.35 million following accusations of failing to comply with regulations governing emissions of volatile organic compounds from mill equipment.

The other mills are in Medford and in Florien and Oakdale, La. The charges were brought by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Justice.

The mills are required to install pollution controls at a total cost estimated at $12 million.

Jeffrey Kops of the EPA said the mills are accused of installing equipment, such as dryers, that require emission controls without adding additional controls. The EPA requires a permit to install equipment and controls.

They should have gone through the process, Kops said. They did not add the emission controls. They must do that.

EPA charged that the company did not accurately report emissions, although Boise has disputed that claim.

Often, the state Department of Environmental Quality will participate with the EPA in enforcement of air pollution violations, but Kops said that Oregons DEQ did not participate in the Boise matter.

We always invite the state, but Oregon declined, he said.

The Island City particleboard plant was fined $28,000 by the state in 1999 for failing to report a breakdown of pollution prevention equipment. At that time, the state DEQ agreed to allow the company to develop a community environmental improvement project. That option is not available under the EPA penalty, because the state did not participate, Kops said.

According to information from Boise Cascade, the new equipment controls are expected to reduce air emissions of the volatile organic compounds by about 1,766 tons per year at all plants.

Volatile organic compounds may contain many types of gases that contribute to the formation of ozone at the ground level, according to the EPA. Those that are of EPA concern include formaldehyde, methanol, and some acetones, a spokeswoman said.

The settlement was reached through mediation.

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