GAF corporation offers $500K to alleviate asphalt odors in Northeast Minneapolis

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Engineers from GAF Corporation will put about half a million dollars into addressing their asphalt stink problem, company representatives told a group gathered by Bottineau Neighborhood Association Oct. 2.

Hearing that there were still odor complaints during a hiatus at the 50 Lowry Ave. N. plant, city officials redoubled their request that people continue to call in promptly, with as much specificity as possible, and report the duration of any smells.

There may be other polluters to be pinned down, or temperature inversions over the river during the night that make an odor linger, get concentrated, or travel far from its source.

What GAF will do

Tommy Richardson, executive director of the plant, said, answering an audience question, that to characterize the emission as “carcinogenic” would “be a loaded word.” He said “we are so far below the allowable limit” of everything the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency monitors for.

He explained the proposed solution. The stink comes from a process of burning the vapors coming off of hot asphalt tanks. The engineers concluded that they could improve that combustion by adding more air and mixing it better with the vapors, using automatic damper controls and an oxygen sensor to modulate the fan, “so it is not monitored or managed by people.” They would also put a “drop leg” on the pipe to capture liquid oil that condenses out, before it could burn.

“It will require some time,” Richardson said, to install. The parts have been ordered, to start installing before Christmas, expecting to be running by March 31, 2015, and hoping to be done even sooner.

How to report odors, and why

There was a question, “until this goes into place, is there a way to have this done at a more regular interval instead of large blast burns?”

Richardson said “when we got complaints we started looking at manpower, materials and measurements.” He said they watched the operators and provided training for two to three months. Complaints seemed to come at night, perhaps once a week, yet “we operated the same way all day. Perhaps the temperature inversion that happens at night may keep it closer to the ground.”

Yet the business is “seasonal and market driven,” for example in the next three months, 10 of the weeks will be down time, Richardson said.

Parents present talked about having to have their kids play inside during times when odors make their eyes sting and their noses run. One reported that the sieges can last 17 to 19 hours.

Also attending were Jim Doten, supervisor of the city’s air quality inspectors, and Margaret Taylor, whose nose is among the most sensitive, Doten said. “Our best tool is the Mark One Nose,” he quipped, referring to the human sense of smell.

He later stressed that reporting the timing and description of odors is important for correlating it with weather data as well as what was happening at local industries.

The number to call: 311.

Someone asked about Consolidated Container as a possible odor source. Taylor “speaks to them frequently. We’re spread thin. We’re getting another inspector next year. Our reports have to be objective,” Doten and Taylor said, otherwise they would get thrown out. The department does about 6,000 inspections a year and addresses other issues as well.

There was much discussion about the elusive nature of odors, as Matt Grimley reported in the Northeaster Aug. 6, 2014. Representatives of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency attended Oct. 2 to explain that there are only six inspectors for the entire state, relying mostly on self-testing of emissions by companies, otherwise testing in a rotation or sooner if there are a lot of concerns.

Ann Calvert of the City of Minneapolis Department of Community Planning and Economic Development explained that the city is renting some land to GAF to store their finished shingles. It’s possible that something in a new lease could leverage the plant to be a good neighbor (my paraphrase). Calvert is assigned to the redevelopment of the Upper Harbor Terminal after the city shuts it down.

Oct. 2 was rainy and the night of a Vikings-Packers game; factors that may account for low resident attendance. The Concerned Citizens of Marshall Terrace, who met privately with GAF earlier, will have a public meeting on the subject Oct. 23, 7 p.m. at River Village East, 2919 Randolph St. NE.