Shelby County works to fix air pollution control program issues

Threatened with suspension by the state, the Shelby County Air Pollution Control Program is actively working to correct problems first identified three years ago, program officials reported to the Board of Control on Wednesday. state air pollution.

Outstanding issues from a 2019 Environmental Protection Agency audit that prevented the county from demonstrating compliance with federal standards include issues with data retention and validation and a lack of standard operating procedures.

Separately, the county also has an 18-month backlog of Title V operating permits, required by companies whose operations involve a major source of airborne contaminants.

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To correct issues identified in 2019, the Shelby County Health Department — which oversees the county’s program — will hire an outside consultant to help create standard operating procedures and hire two new data analysts, according to the program. . first quarterly report, dated September 30.

In addition to the consultant who will help create procedures, another consultant is being sought to help with day-to-day operations, Kasia Smith-Alexander, Shelby County’s environmental health administrator, said in a report to the state board. .

This consultant will review daily summary reports for anomalies, perform quality checks and more.

The county is also considering hiring two engineers to deal with the backlog of permits, Smith-Alexander said.

In a written statement, the Shelby County Health Department said it expects to meet the state’s goal of receiving a closure letter from the Environmental Protection Agency by June 2023, a letter that will indicate that all concerns have been resolved.

Wednesday was the first of the county council’s required quarterly updates to the state, which grants its permission to operate through an exemption certificate. There are four local air pollution control programs in Tennessee, while other areas are covered by the state board.

In June, the state granted the Shelby County Air Pollution Control Program a certificate of exemption, but with caveats: That the Shelby County Health Department resolve outstanding findings from a report of 2019, provide a closure letter from the Environmental Protection Agency no later than 12 months, and report to the state on a quarterly basis.

“If it is determined that the SCHD is in breach of the terms of this exemption or non-compliance with these provisions, the Air Pollution Control Division shall notify the Board, and the Board, on reasonable notice to the SCHD, may suspend the exemption in whole or in part until the SCHD resolves the outstanding findings and concerns identified in the 2019 TSA,” reads the June order granting the county’s exemption certificate.

At the time of the Exemption Certificate renewal process, Shelby County had 30 permit activities with applications beyond the regulatory 18-month deadline. Over the past two years, the department has had about 75 authorization activities that have been supplemented by requests beyond the 18-month deadline, according to the state board order in June.

Michelle Walker Owenby, director of the air pollution control division at the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, said the state believes Shelby County has made progress. And, she’s optimistic that the Shelby County Health Department can get a closure letter from the Environmental Protection Agency by June 2023.

“There’s a lot of work to do, but they certainly take it very seriously with the amount of counseling and hiring they do,” Owenby said. “They’ve put a lot of things in place to try to solve their longer-term staffing issues by making changes (to human resources) and looking at a higher rate they can pay for the positions. These things are great that can help them maintain the program.

Katherine Burgess covers county government and religion. She can be reached at [email protected], 901-529-2799 or followed on Twitter @kathsburgess.

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