Thursday, March 10, 2011
Intel's Request Revives Health Concerns
By Rosalie Rayburn
Journal Staff Writer
Intel's latest request to revise its air quality permit has revived discontent simmering among Corrales residents over the alleged health risks they claim their corporate neighbor poses for their semi-rural community.
Last month, the giant computer chip manufacturer asked the state Environment Department to approve a permit revision that would allow the company to install additional emission control equipment. Revisions of Intel's permits governing emissions have been issued multiple times in the last 30 years.
If approved, this permit revision could be issued in late May, according to the Environment Department.
Company representatives have said the permit is needed to "pre-position" the company for investment that could boost the economy.
Corrales residents who have long complained about ill-health related to emissions from the nearby Intel plant say they fear the permit will mean a factory expansion with more pollution.
Intel has scheduled a public meeting in Corrales on March 28. Village residents who attended a similar meeting in February organized by Intel blasted the permit request. One of those residents, Lynne Kinis, has launched a petition asking the Environment Department to deny Intel's request over concerns about air emissions, odors and noise.
Kinis and several other village residents have for years claimed emissions from the Rio Rancho plant are linked to cases of pulmonary disease and other health problems.
Marcy Brandenburg, spokeswoman for Corrales Residents for Clean Air and Water, has cited a 2009 report by the federal Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry and a 2010 Environmental Protection Agency report as confirmation for residents' health claims.
The 2009 report said studies done in 2003 and 2004 showed the plant emitted chemicals capable of causing unpleasant odors which "might cause" health symptoms, but said more monitoring was needed to evaluate the health impact of plant emissions.
The EPA report said an investigation done after inspections at the site in December 2009 found areas of concern related to the permit governing chemical emissions from the Rio Rancho plant.
Jami Grindatto, corporate affairs director for Intel in the Southwest, said there are no immediate plans to expand the plant. Having the permit in place would position Rio Rancho well for when Intel's corporate executives decide which plants will benefit from multibillion-dollar investments for the next technology upgrade.
"My job is to position our sites constantly to make sure the business climate and plant is ready," Grindatto said this week.
Intel's Santa Clara, Calif., headquarters picked the Rio Rancho plant for a $2.5 billion investment in 2009 to upgrade Fab 11x from a 45- to 32-nanometer transistor manufacturing process to build faster, smaller and more energy efficient chips.
In October 2010, the company announced it would spend $6 billion to $8 billion to upgrade plants in Oregon and Arizona to support 22-nanometer technology. Last month, Intel said it would build a new $5 billion plant in Chandler, Ariz., that would be capable of creating 14-nanometer transistors. A nanometer is one billionth the length of a meter. The announcements said smaller technology would enable higher performance and longer battery life at lower costs.
"That's the race the semiconductor industry is in," Grindatto said, adding that if the permit is not in place, it would be a moot point whether Rio Rancho would get in on the next round of investment, and that could mean jobs for New Mexico.
Intel environmental engineer Sarah Chavez said the company has to request a change to its air quality permit any time it intends to install new emission control equipment. This request includes adding thermal oxidizers, ammonia treatment systems and a bulk solvent waste treatment system.
The new equipment would be similar to emissions handling equipment the company already uses. But newer technology requires more pollution treatment, she said.
"Intel's design for the environment is to reduce emissions from one technology to another," Chavez said.
She said the permit request did ask if Intel could add more buildings to the Rio Rancho plant, but there has been no decision to do so.
Chavez emphasized that adding more equipment does not mean increasing the emission limit.
"This proposed expansion does not result in an increase to the current (state and federally) permitted levels," she said in an e-mail.
According to an e-mail from the Environment Department, the permit will only be issued "after a facility demonstrates compliance with all Federal and New Mexico State air quality standards" and all other requirements under federal and state law.