The chemical compounds that seem to concern environmental activists the most, however, are fluorides.
Fluorides are compounds of the element fluorine, a pale yellow gas with a sharp odor. Different compounds of fluorine are used in many types of manufacturing, including the production of glass, enamels, bricks, aluminum and silicon. Fluorine combines with hydrogen to make hydrogen fluoride, a colorless gas. Hydrogen fluoride is then dissolved in water to make hydrofluoric acid, a solvent used in silicon-wafer manufacturing.
Hydrofluoric acid is one of the most dangerous acids known. Get so much as one drop on a fingertip, and the whole finger usually must be amputated because, as the acid works its way deeper and deeper into body tissue, there is no way to remove it. Some people who get a tiny splash of the stuff on them feel its aftereffects for decades.
Hydrofluoric acid will be in the wastewater generated by the Sumitomo plant. Neither company officials nor state or city water officials know yet exactly what concentrations will be discharged, although the groups say there is nothing to worry about.
Apparently, residents will have to take the official word as gospel. There is no city or state wastewater standard for fluorides.
There are federal standards for fluorides in wastewater, but the measurements to determine whether the city is meeting them are done at the wastewater treatment plant. In this case, the measurements will not be done until Sumitomo's waste has traveled 20 miles and been mixed with, and diluted by, wastewater from all over the city.
Sumitomo says that, as the world's biggest manufacturer of silicon wafers, it knows how to handle dangerous chemicals safely. The company says that by the time any waste chemicals leave the plant, they will be diluted enough that they will pose no hazard to anyone.
Whatever measures are used to clean the water, Phoenix taxpayers will end up footing the bill for much of them.
Currently, Phoenix water records show, the 100 largest industrial users of water in the city pay only about half the cost of treating their wastewater. That leaves taxpayers with the tab for treating the rest of it--about $800,000 per year.
Using 2.5 million gallons of water per day, Sumitomo will by itself increase that wastewater-treatment cost burden by about 17 percent.
Despite the city's fast-tracking of the project, the work public officials and local businesspeople put into getting the company to come here, and the rhetoric to the contrary, the fight over Sumitomo may not be over.
Chris Estes' coalition is working with the city, he says, trying at least to nail down some aspects of the deal (such as environmental permitting) before construction begins. If all else fails, the coalition will sue--on grounds that the city didn't follow public-disclosure rules as it worked to bring the company here. Whether his group can stop the process before ground is broken, he doesn't know.
"The problem that we have is that environmental concerns aren't even addressed. They were never even brought up. We want the city to go back through the process, to do it right this time for the citizens of this city," Estes says.
To say that there was no significant public input into the process is an understatement. Changing Sumitomo's site from residential to industrial zoning required an amendment of Desert Ridge's general plan and a rezoning of that specific parcel. Both were done.
The city, however, had entered into an agreement with Sumitomo that the company's name would be left out of zoning matters until the last possible moment. When the rezoning and the change of the general plan were considered, the Phoenix City Planning Commission was listed as the applicant, not Sumitomo. And state land officials acknowledge that they worked on the lease for the site for months without even knowing whom it was for.
The city's willingness to keep the Sumitomo move a secret is made abundantly clear in a July 20 agreement between the Phoenix Development Services Department and the company. In it, the city promises: "All rezoning applications and fees have been completed and paid by [the developer] and/or the City. Sumitomo-Sitix and their representative ... will not need to participate in the rezoning process and will not be identified as part of this process."
Also, the Phoenix City Council approved the tax and infrastructure subsidies for Sumitomo as "emergencies." Use of the city's emergency clause, which relaxes public-notice requirements for council action, is reserved, by law, for measures that are necessary for the "preservation of the public peace, health and safety."