Sabotage at Sitix?

Silicon plant fouls air while company worries about foul play

Nearby residents continue to be concerned about the plant, and records show that they have made numerous reports of foul odors coming from the plant, as well as smoke of various colors coming from its smokestacks.

"The emission stacks are not smokestacks," states a Sitix publication sent out to neighbors of the plant. "The stacks do not and will not emit smoke. All emissions from the plant pass through effective scrubber systems which clean the air before being released from the building."

Despite those reassurances, however, residents have reported sightings of pea-green, yellow, gray and white smoke coming from the stacks.

Former county environmental expert Ela Kozak examined public documents submitted by Sitix at the request of New Times. She says that there's good reason for residents to question the reliability of the Sitix scrubber systems.

"There are EPA regulations which pertain to these types of emission control systems, and it's clear from these records that these EPA regulations are being violated," Kozak says, adding that evidence suggests Sitix employees are unfamiliar with proper operation of the scrubbers. She points to logs which are incompletely filled and which indicate that scrubbers were allowed to run dry, canceling their effectiveness.

Such breakdowns allow untreated emissions to leave the plant. One breakdown may have been captured when an amateur video maker filmed a plume of material coming from a stack on June 6.

Sitix officials told county inspectors that the cloud was only water vapor and resulted when a scrubber was superheated in a test of new equipment.

"It's obvious that they don't know how to use those devices," Kozak says. "In case of releases, they have no way of knowing how much they've released." She points to letters between the company and the county, in which Sitix is asked to document emissions on a certain day, and can't because of a lack of records.

Kozak, who spent six years regulating businesses in California, is troubled by the poor level of oversight of polluters in Arizona. She suggests that Sitix is taking advantage of that laxness when it makes excuses for not submitting a detailed operating plan which is required under the county's easy regulations. The county cited Sumitomo for not complying with the rule. The company has since turned in a plan, but it has yet to be approved by the county.

"It looks funny that this large company has no idea that they need those kind of plans," she says. "The county should shut down the plant until they can prove they have professionals who will calibrate and monitor their emissions continuously.

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