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Six question for PCS Phosphate regrading the proposed sulfur melting facility at the Morehead City Port

For background, please see our original post – Secrets and Sulfur at the Morehead City Port. Over the last two days, I’ve dug through the PCS Phosphate Environmental Assessment, checked out some of the press reports, and talked to an insider from their Aurora facility. After pouring through what little data is available, I have six concerns that I would like to see addressed before this project is approved.

    1. How much water will be used by this facility and from where will it be sourced? In the EA PCS Phosphate acknowledges that they cannot expand their sulfur melting facility in Aurora because providing steam to the facility would be too expensive. The final plant will be capable of producing 5000 tons of molten sulfur per day. How much water will the production of 5000 tons of molten sulfur require? If the water is sourced from the Castle Hayne aquifer will it draw enough water to create a shortage, similar to the Atlanta/Coca-Cola case? If the water is pumped from the sound, will there be stopgaps in place to prevent thermal pollution and chemical discharge? Will there be contingencies in place to allow the county to shut down the plant during drought conditions?
    2. How much Sulfur Dioxide will be produced and how will it be monitored? One of the byproducts of converting formed solid sulfur into molten sulfur is sulfur dioxide, a compound known to cause respiratory problems and a key component of acid rain. Assuming sulfur dioxide will be released into the atmosphere, will there be systems in place to monitor both air quality and environmental accumulation in the surrounding estuary? If unacceptable levels of sulfur dioxide are detected, what kind of remediation systems will be in place?
    3. What is the past safety record of both PCS Phosphate and the Morehead City Port? According to an Aurora insider, PCS Phospate does have a fairly good safety record for the industry, although there was an explosion recently at the Aurora phosphoric acid plant. The Morehead City Port has a less stellar record in recent years, with a power transformer exploding last fall and the infamous PETN incident two years ago.
    4. How will the plant deal with aquatic chemical discharge? Will the be processing and containment facilities at the plant? Will chemical waste be shipped out by barge or rail? Will there be any chemical discharge into the surrounding water, and if so, how will environmental impacts be monitored?
    5. What are the worst case scenarios and how will they be handled? In the EA, they make no reference to worst case scenarios, despite the plant being built in a hurricane zone near critical wetland habitat. In addition to that, molten sulfur has a low flash point and can be highly explosive. What does PCS Phosphate anticipate as a worse case scenario and how do they intend to respond?
    6. Will there be a complete, comprehensive, and transparent Environmental Impact Assessment? Every one of these questions would be answered in a full EIS. Are there any plans to conduct such an assessment before construction commences? Will local environmental scientists from any of the 5 marine laboratories surrounding the site be consulted? Will the process be transparent and open to public review?
It’s entirely possible that the sulfur processing plant will not have negative consequences for the environment, tourism, and commercial fisheries in the area, but as of now there nothing has been produced to suggest that is the case. Without a comprehensive environmental impact statement, the public is blind.

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