By: Carson Gerber Kokomo Tribune
Kokomo IN (3/8/2020) – Haynes International has been part of the city’s manufacturing backbone for more than 100 years, producing nickel- and cobalt-based alloys that have been used in aerospace, rockets, World Wars, the chemical industry and medical prosthetics.
But according to a new study, the Kokomo plant at 2000 W. Defenbaugh St. is producing more than just alloys.
It’s producing tons of toxic emissions that could affect children living around the plant, making it one of the most potentially harmful polluters in the country.
The Environmental Integrity Project compiled the report that identifies the 100 industrial facilities spewing the most toxic air pollution in heavily populated areas across the United States.
The study, called “Breath to the People: Sacred Air and Toxic Pollution,” was commissioned by the United Church of Christ and pinpoints the locations of the U.S. “toxic 100 super polluters” by documenting the hazardous chemicals being released into the air.
And, according to the report, Haynes International is the 18th worst polluter in America.
TONS OF TOXINS
Since 1987, the company has reported releasing 11 chemicals and metals, including chromium, cobalt, copper, nickel, nitric and sulfuric acid, and hydrogen fluoride. In 2018, the company reported releasing over 16,000 pounds in total of those chemicals.
Courtney Bernhardt, the lead researcher of the study, said what makes Haynes’ emissions so dangerous isn’t how much it’s putting out – it’s the kinds of chemicals they’re releasing into the air.
“Not all chemicals are created equal,” she said. “They have different toxic effects on people at different concentrations.”
The study compiled its list by looking at how much emissions facilities created, and then weighing those emissions based on their toxic effects when inhaled by people. Based on that rating and data from the Environmental Protection Agency, the study found that Haynes put out 26.5 million tons of toxic emissions in 2018.
She said one of the most dangerous chemicals being emitted by Haynes is hexavalent chromium, which can cause lung cancer in workers who breathe it in high doses, along with irritation or damage to the respiratory tract, eyes and skin.
“It’s the same chemical Erin Brockovich was hunting down, if you’ve seen the movie,” Bernhardt said.
Other metals with high toxicity ratings are nickel and cobalt. Nickel can harm the lungs, stomach and kidneys, and could lead to cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Cobalt can harm the eyes, skin, heart and lungs and may cause cancer.
But what makes the pollution from Haynes even more dangerous is how many people live around the factory that could be exposed to the chemicals.
Nearly 3,100 people live within a 1-mile radius of the plant, including nearly 150 children under the age of 5. The number of children jumps to over 1,700 within 3 miles of the factory. Boulevard Elementary School is also less than a mile from Haynes.
“It is children — with their small, vulnerable, developing bodies — who most suffer from breathing in toxic air pollutants,” wrote Rev. Brooks Berndt, United Church of Christ’s minister of environmental justice, in the study. “Some of the facilities in the report’s Toxic 100 list have a seemingly inconspicuous existence. They hide in plain sight and threaten children in communities across the country.”
Bernhardt said Haynes International may be one of those factories hiding in plain sight.
“It certainly could be,” she said. “We look at a lot of facility-level data, and Haynes isn’t one of those comes up on our radar very frequently – even though they’re a high priority violator, and have been for a while.”
Data from the Environmental Protection Agency also says the company has a high risk of harming human health. Based on the EPA’s model, Haynes’ health-risk rating is nearly 130,000 times above the industry average.
But company officials say the emissions put out by the factory aren’t as bad as the report indicates.
Mike Shor, president and CEO of Haynes, said the way the company reports emissions numbers to the government are based on worst-case scenarios, and not what the Kokomo plant is actually emitting. He said one example is how much nickel the factory puts out, which is actually 40 times lower than what they report.
Now, after the study has come out, Shor said the company is reevaluating how it reports emissions to the EPA, since the company believes it’s not putting out as much pollution as it reports. He said they are also looking into revising previous reports to reflect what they say is the correct data.
“We don’t believe we’re 18th on the list,” he said. “ … That came as a significant surprise to us. We believe that the numbers are the issues, and we’ve got to look for ways to get numbers that are more reflective of our actual results.”
Shor said he believes the factory’s emission numbers are lower because he knows of many other metal companies that are much larger than Haynes that didn’t make the list of super polluters.
“That made us question how we are reporting these numbers,” he said. “It’s one of those things where we reported the numbers based on what we believed was the right way to report them, as opposed to the actual emissions themselves.”
But lead researcher Bernhardt pushed back against that response, saying not reporting the numbers correctly ultimately falls back on the company.
“They’re supposed to report what they actually emit,” she said. “They’re not supposed to report their potential to emit under the worst-case operating scenarios. … Companies need to report correctly, and it’s on the EPA and the company to get it right.”
A HISTORY OF VIOLATIONS
But other factors beyond the new report also raise alarms about the company’s environmental track record in Kokomo.
For 10 consecutive quarters, Haynes has been on the EPA’s High Priority Violator list for breaking state or federal environmental codes. The company also has a long history of being fined by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management for failing to meet environmental requirements.
Haynes has been issued more than a dozen fines since at least 1988, when the company had to pay $15,000 for failing in part to properly monitor groundwater sampling.
The most recent fine came last year, when IDEM required Haynes to pay $6,000 for failing to monitor and record data related to its dust collectors and fume scrubbers.
Other fines came from violations such as failing to submit compliance and emissions reports, failing to properly label tanks of waste acid and oil, not complying with a hazardous waste inspection program, and failing to get the proper permits for putting in a temporary boiler.
Kokomo Area Creation Care, a local interfaith nonprofit group that promotes sustainable energy use, said in a statement it was “dismayed” by the recent study and the history of Haynes violating environmental regulations.
“As people of faith we call for the effective enforcement of the state and federal environmental laws to protect the vulnerable children and adults in our community,” the group said. “We call for Haynes International to comply with environmental laws.”
Company CEO Shor said that’s something Haynes is working diligently to do, but he said the violations are all administrative, and the plant hasn’t been fined because it exceeded emissions limits.
“We take all of this extremely seriously, and we recognize that we’re truly stewards of our community and our employees,” he said. “ … The key point is that the issues were administrative in nature, and not a result of excess air emissions.”
But Shor did say it’s taking too long for the plant to come into compliance with state and federal environmental laws, and the company is working as quickly as it can to conform to regulations.
“It’s taken us too darn long to fix it, but we’re working to fix it and we do expect to return to full compliance,” he said. “… I don’t want to be leading a company that’s consistently known as a high-priority violator. That’s not something we want.”
Lenore Kane, president of Kokomo Area Creation Care, said considering Haynes’ long history in the city, the new report and its long-time status as a high-priority violator came as a very unpleasant surprise.
“I’ve always thought of Haynes as the great Kokomo plant that’s known around the world,” she said. “The fact that’s it violated so much and No. 18 out of 100 facilities is shocking.”
Jesse Kharbanda, executive director of the Hoosier Environmental Council, said given the company’s place on the list and its environmental track record, Haynes officials should hold a public hearing to inform residents about what it’s doing to protect the environment.
“In keeping with being a community-engaged Kokomo company, with more than century-long presence in Kokomo, we call on Haynes International to host a well-advertised public meeting in Kokomo that lays out its environmental record,” he said in a statement.
Lead researcher Bernhardt said in the end, the study is meant to inform residents, especially those with children who live around high-emission plants, about the chemicals to which they may be exposed.
The study also raises a red flag about what it called an “assault” on environmental protections by the Trump administration.
“The present administration has sought to roll back 95 protections,” the study said. “To make matters worse, the protections in place are losing their teeth as enforcement drops to levels not seen in decades. The overall picture is one of institutional dismantlement and destruction.”
Bernhardt said with violators like Haynes that exist in places like Kokomo, enforcement is critical to keep companies honest about how they’re affecting the environment and the health of area residents.
“We think enforcement really needs to be meaningful if we’re ever going to do anything to curb emissions,” she said. “Our analysis is saying, ‘Hey, these places should be investigated more.’”
Carson Gerber can be reached at 765-854-6739, email@example.com or on Twitter @carsongerber1