Are Cited By
By TOM YANCEY
Two local companies identified in a huge database that served as a basis for a series of USA Today articles this week about potential toxic pollution near U.S. schools took issue with the methodology used by the national newspaper.
As reported in Tuesday's issue, the USA Today database that accompanied the series of articles identified West Greene High School as the fifth-ranked school in the United States, in terms of its potential exposure to polluted air.
The database the national daily newspaper used ranked Mosheim School in the first percentile in terms of potential exposure to bad air. Approximately 128,000 schools were included in the database.
The same database ranked most schools in the county in the second through fifth percentile, meaning that nearly all schools in the nation were ranked as having better outside air than at Mosheim School.
Neither the Greene County or Greeneville school system was contacted by USA Today for the series, titled "The Smokestack Effect: Toxic Air And America's Schools," and none of the local industries was contacted.
Linda Matthews, the USA Today editor in charge of the project, told The Greeneville Sun in a telephone interview Wednesday afternoon, after the Sun's article was posted on the Internet, that USA Today could not possibly have contacted the thousands of school superintendents that were included in the database, though selected systems were contacted. She did not comment on why the fifth-ranking school on the list was not among those contacted.
Matthews said that USA Today itself put air quality monitors at 95 schools, but none in Greene County. She said that the chemical that appeared to be the biggest potential threat to WGHS and Mosheim School, diisocyanates, is very hard to test for in the atmosphere.
Matthews said one overall purpose of the series was to point up the need for more actual monitoring of air quality. She said USA Today had been notified by the states of Ohio and Pennsylvania that more air-quality monitoring is planned there, at least partly because of the "Smokestack" series.
The Tennessee Department of Environment & Conservation currently has no air quality monitors in Greene County.
The listing for West Greene High School on USA Today's Web site ( http://www.USAToday.com) stated that diisocyanates were responsible for 96 percent of the potential problem at WGHS.
The same page identified DTR Tennessee Inc., on Pottertown Road in Midway, as one of the polluters. DTR is located less than a mile from WGHS, while none of the other industries listed were anywhere near as close.
The list of pollutants was presented beside a list of industries that report the potential for emitting those chemicals.
Matthews stated that the two lists presented side by side were not directly related, or intended to be read as related. Another USA Today reporter who asked not to be identified pointed out that a light gray line separates the lists that are presented side by side.
The same industries are in most of the lists, but they are presented in a different sequence on lists for different schools, and the industries list lines up with the toxic chemicals list to its left, making it very easy to conclude that the two lists are related, as a Greeneville Sun reporter did on Tuesday.
The list for WGHS identifies diisocyanates as the main problem, and lists DTR Tennessee Inc. beside it.
Cal Doty, vice president for human resources at DTR, when asked by the Sun if DTR uses diisocyanates, immediately said, "We do."
Doty said DTR uses diisocyanates in the production of its vibration-dampening products for automotive applications, and in the production of automotive hoses.
The USA Today articles were based on information from a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency database for 2005.
Doty told the Sun that in 2005, DTR incorrectly reported the amount of diisocyanates that could have potentially been released, but were not actually released.
The DTR report to the EPA "grossly overestimated" the potential amount of diisocyanates that the company could have released in 2005, Doty said. He said that DTR discovered the reporting error and corrected it in 2008.
DTR Official Comment
On Wednesday, DTR president and chief operating officer Tetsu Matsui provided a written expansion of Doty's comments.
Matsui wrote, "Recently we have become aware through local media reports some concern about the expected air quality of some local schools. Our company DTR Tennessee, Inc. was listed as a possible source of the potential poor air quality. We would like to communicate some key points concerning this report.
"1 - DTR Tennessee, Inc. was never contacted by anyone to verify the information in the initial report.
"2 - The report is based on information provided by DTR Tennessee, Inc. to the Environmental Protection Agency.
"3 - The report is based on potential air quality and not actual air quality.
"4 - The report is based on 2005 information, which is over three years old.
"5 - The information which DTR Tennessee, Inc. provided to the EPA in 2005 was incorrect. Our emissions of one substance was less than .01 percent of what was reported to the EPA for that year. This was corrected in a report the EPA accepted in 2008.
"6 - Since 2005, DTR Tennessee has invested over 3.5 million dollars in the best available technology to improve our air emissions. We have reduced our actual air emissions by 98.9 percent.
"For the above reasons, DTR Tennessee, Inc. feels the information in the report does not accurately reflect the actual situation with regards to any impact we might have on potential air quality.
"We agree with the response of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (as quoted in the Sun article, stating) "It's a screening tool and it really shouldn't be used as a risk-assessment," Matsui wrote.
He concluded, "DTR Tennessee, Inc. has always operated within the legal limits of the permits issued by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation. However, we not only strive to meet all legal requirements, it is our goal to exceed them.
"We have a very active environmental program which has allowed us to achieve the national environmental standard of ISO14001 certification since 2003. This is a strong indication of our Management and Associates commitment to being a good corporate citizen."
Matthews, the USA Today editor, acknowledged that the EPA report the newspaper used included 2005 data. She said the newspaper obtained the EPA database early in 2008 and began constructing its own database using what EPA provided.
"I'm sorry if this model overstates the situation, Matthews said. She noted that the next report, with data from 2006, is not due out from the EPA until late 2009.
According to Wikipedia, "ISO 14001 is the international specification for an environmental management system (EMS). It specifies requirements for establishing an environmental policy, determining environmental aspects and impacts of products/activities/services, planning environmental objectives and measurable targets, implementation and operation of programs to meet objectives and targets, checking and corrective action, and management review."
ISO stands for International Organization for Standardization.
The Donaldson Company, which makes air filters for large, off-road equipment at its Rockwell Road facility off Industrial Road in Greeneville, was also identified as a potential source of air pollution in the USA Today database, especially in the city school lists.
Becky Cahn, corporate communications manager for Donaldson, told the Sun in a telephone interview Wednesday that Donaldson's Greeneville facility is also certified under ISO 14,001.
Getting ISO 14,001 certification "is a big achievement," she said, and means that a third-party certifies that "we're in compliance with an effective environmental management system" in place, and continuously updated and improved.
Cahn said that the Donaldson Company does not have "any issues" regarding compliance with state or federal environmental regulations at its Greeneville facility.
"We're all good," she said. "We feel really confident about where we stand" on environmental issues, Cahn said. "We're environmentally friendly, and environmentally focused."
Cahn confirmed that Donaldson does use "a version of diisocyanates" in the manufacture of urethane, which is used in an air-oil separator manufactured at its Greeneville plant.
The Donaldson spokesperson said that, when schools are discussed, she is much more accustomed to talking about a product her company makes at a plant in Minnesota that is typically retrofitted on school buses, to collect toxic gases from diesel exhaust fumes, "so emissions are reduced."
The USA Today series points out in its methodology section that 85 percent of air pollution in the U.S. comes from vehicles, small businesses and sources other than large industry, according to a 2002 EPA study.