Rio Rancho’s chip-manufacturer is asking the state for a significant revision to its air permit just in case the plant wants to expand. This request highlights health concerns that have been rattling around Corrales for years, as Intel sits on a bluff above the southwestern edge of the village.
It was standing room only at an Intel-facilitated meeting Monday, March 28. More than 75 people crowded into the Corrales Senior Center.
For years, residents have been saying emissions from the 4-million square-foot facility cause respiratory problems. The computer chip manufacturer’s neighbors have reported acrid-smelling air, burning eyes and noses, and what Lynne Kinis called the "Intel cough." She and other Corrales residents are circulating a petition asking the state's Environmental Department to deny the permit.
Intel has no immediate plans to expand, but Environmental Engineer Sarah Chavez said it's not out of the question.
The Intel Corporation has said it will renovate several plants so they can manufacture the next generation of chips. Intel plants around the country will compete to be upgraded, Chavez said. Having an air quality permit pre-approved is one of the requirements.
The state issued Intel its first air permit in 1980. As part of a permit change that was being reviewed in the mid ’90s, an agreement with Corrales Residents for Clean Air and Water was established to limit Intel's volatile organic compounds or solvents, and its emissions.
The chip-maker uses 80 hazardous air pollutants in its manufacturing process, among other chemicals. They are either consumed in chemical reactions, captured in air pollution devices, collected as waste, released in wastewater or emitted into the air. Over time, emission rates may have increased due to additional equipment going online, Chavez said, but the annual limits have not been exceeded. Intel’s emissions are calculated based on the amounts of chemicals used and the expected efficiency of pollution control devices.
The Environment Department's Coleman Smith, author of the permit, was on hand at the meeting. He said the permit could be issued as early as the end of May, but first the plant must show compliance with federal and state air standards.
A 2009 study released by the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry states that the data from Intel’s ambient air monitors was not adequate for a full evaluation of health risks.
One village resident brought up an EPA report released in October 2010 after a surprise inspection. It cites concerns about a lack of “short-term (hourly, daily or monthly) emission limits.” Chavez said the plant is working with the state and the feds to address the issue.
Longtime Corrales resident Martha Egan had Japan's nuclear problems on her mind. “What are the emergency mechanisms in place?” she asked. Chavez said once power is cut off at the plant, then all production stops and there are no emissions.
Noreen Scott said she lives in the community along with many people that work at Intel. “For 20 years Intel has been very straight with us,” Scott said. “We have to trust the quality of the people that work there. I trust the company is fair and a good neighbor.” Several other people said they work at Intel and know it puts health and safety first. They said they live in Corrales, too, and do not feel any concern raising their families and breathing the air.