Dave Falatko lives in the shadow of oil storage tanks and worries about the impact of their emissions on the health of his family.
“In general, in the spring it smells almost every day, but it depends on the wind,” Falatko said in an interview. “I’m going to call him tar. At least it’s petroleum. It has a strong smell.
About 120 oil storage tanks dot the cityscape – some active, others dormant – and they’ve been there for decades, containing petroleum products ranging from gasoline to asphalt.
Now, the city’s 25,000 residents are more worried about fumes than ever before, as are residents of Portland and neighboring communities like Cape Elizabeth and Westbrook.
Falatko said, “Should I be here? Should anyone live next to these tank farms? If that was a mistake, then it’s time to admit it and move on.
As an environmental engineer, Falatko fully understands why and how tank emissions occur, such as a recognizable asphalt smell during road repair seasons.
Falatko said, “They have to keep the tar, the asphalt, at a certain temperature, to keep it fluid, to pump it. So as it cools down at night, they have to reheat it again the next day to ship it.
In 2019, the United States Environmental Protection Agency announced that two of six companies that own multiple reservoirs, Global Partners and Massachusetts-based Sprague Resources, were exceeding allowable emission caps.
“We have a danger to public health from toxic emissions,” State Representative Rebecca Millett, Democrat of Cape Elizabeth, said in an interview.
Millett drafted legislation requiring the Maine Department of Environmental Protection to study the past year’s emissions and report to the legislature with recommendations,
Millett said, “I think there are times when the air is not safe, and we really have a hard time figuring out when that is and why.”
DEP’s Jan. 3 report, which would require changes in tank design, found toxic volatile organic compounds, called VOCs, like acrolein and naphthalene, in vapors emitted from stored oil and asphalt in the tanks. But the amount and sources of VOCs, as well as their impact on human health, remain unresolved.
In addition to DEP surveillance, citizens like Falatko began collecting their own backyard samples at times they smelled smells and reporting these occasions to South Portland’s Smell My City app.
Falatko said, “Our sample from our back porch contained a high naphthalene content on a very smelly day, and I’m not sure if there is a connection or not.”
Global and Sprague, although identified by the EPA, would emit the lowest amounts of VOCs from the companies involved, according to DEP data obtained by WMTW.
In 2019, the Global tanks were responsible for around 4 tonnes of VOCs and the Sprague tanks, 7.5 tonnes. The South Portland terminal emitted 44 tonnes; Citgo, 42 years old; Portland Pipeline, 41; and Gulf, 26. The total, 164 tonnes, is well below the cumulative 700 tonnes annually authorized by licenses issued by DEP.
However, these totals are not actual measures of actual emissions; Instead, these are company estimates based on tank volume, activity and temperatures, all calculated using national industry standards approved by federal and state regulators. .
A lingering criticism of the DEP study is the location of its fixed air monitoring stations. There are five sites in South Portland, one for each electoral district, including South Portland High School and Bug Light Park, and some residents complain about capturing ambient air too far from the tanks.
“You want to know what comes out of the tanks at the source,” Falatko said. “You know if the South Portland sewage treatment plant had a violation of their discharge, you wouldn’t go into Casco Bay and start sampling the water, you would sample right at the treatment plant.” Wastewater.
Global Partners, following a consent decree with the EPA, is the first tank-owning company to announce measures to address emissions.
Catie Kerns, vice president of corporate communications, said in a written statement:
“We are in the final stages of building improved odor control. The controls will then be calibrated and activated well in advance of the start of the asphalt heating season in the spring. Improved odor controls go beyond regulatory requirements. “
WMTW has learned that Sprague Resources has reached a final consent order with the EPA, the agreement filed in Massachusetts federal court on January 8. It forces the company to limit emissions at South Portland and six other New England energy facilities.
“We have tentative plans to build a system,” said Shana Hoch, general manager of marketing and customer experience at Sprague, in a written statement. “The cost of implementing the systems is significant and we want to make sure we comply with all the requirements.”
Hoch said the plans would be submitted to South Portland, Maine DEP and the EPA for review.
“Once we have a consensus with the city and the DEP, we will get all the necessary permits and establish an implementation schedule,” she said.