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Poplar Talks

Green technology... but at what cost?

By ZOË WATKINS - zwatkins@t-g.com
Posted 11/1/22

I would not describe myself as a climate activist. But I would describe myself as a conservationist. That is, I believe we should be good stewards of what we have here on earth.

And I believe this …

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Poplar Talks

Green technology... but at what cost?


I would not describe myself as a climate activist. But I would describe myself as a conservationist. That is, I believe we should be good stewards of what we have here on earth.

And I believe this for the sake of the beautiful farmland in this area that directly impacts many peoples’ livelihoods—from having clean water to drink to good soil to grow crops.

I’ve been asking a few legitimate questions about some of the new industries coming to the 231 North Industrial Park.

This is not a critique; this is just simply questions I know many in the community are asking.

So....What is the environmental impact of having a lithium electrolyte manufacturing plant?

Many residents are concerned about the impact this plant could have on the water system. What issues does an entity like the Tennessee Department of Environmental Conservation foresee with the plant polluting the water system?

What regulations are in place to protect the local environment against manufacturers?

What is the protocol for disposing of the plant's waste?

What kind of impact does producing, manufacturing, and storing material that goes into lithium electrolyte have on the environment? Will the plant’s electrolyte manufacturing be stored on site?

Can the sewer and water systems support more than one of these plants if they were to expand?

I reached out to TDEC with many of these questions, and they were kind enough to send data from their Division of Water Resources (DWR) as well as from their Division of Air Pollution Control (DAPC). This is a good sign for the sake of transparency.

I’ve briefly looked through some of the documents—some as large as 117 pages, which shows how thorough these reports are—and have found a few possible concerns.

My biggest: Volatile Organic Compounds, or VOCs.

The Duksan Electera America plant is estimated to release 0.23 pounds of emissions per hour of VOCs. This equates to an average of 1 ton per year. Sounds like a lot.

A little science lesson: VOCs are compounds that have a high vapor pressure and low water solubility. Do with that as you would like.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, many VOCs are human-made chemicals that are used and produced in the manufacturing of paints, pharmaceuticals, and refrigerants. VOCs typically are industrial solvents or by-products produced by chlorination in water treatment, such as chloroform. VOCs are often components of petroleum fuels, hydraulic fluids, paint thinners, and dry-cleaning agents.

Most importantly, according to the EPA website, “VOCs are common ground-water contaminants.”

The report lists Duksan as having a control efficiency of 95%, which sounds encouraging. But over time, could that 5% build up and have an effect, especially if the plant was to expand?

Also, another cause for concern, listed under the construction general permit’s (CGP) specific information, it says there are threatened and endangered species within a 1-mile radius as well as 5 miles downstream.

According to the report, the receiving stream is listed as Parch Corn Creek and Benford Creek. The activity that will be going on will include “clearing, grading, installation of associated infrastructure, construction of a manufacturing facility with drives and parking.”

Why is this a concern?

This is just the beginning of this years-long project. If there are some concerns already, without any building having taken place, where will we be in five years?

Again, I’m not critiquing this project because I think there are merits in the realm of job creation and green technology.

But at what cost?

We don’t need to be trapped in the “dark ages” and we don’t need to be afraid of development. But we do need to ask the right questions, be skeptical, and watch in earnest before this land becomes an industrial wasteland.

To quote one of my favorite songs by Laurie Lewis, called The Wood Thrush's Song, “Over my head, just a few years ago, the poplar leaves shivered when the breezes did blow. Now the deep hum of engines drowns the soft sigh of the wind in the leaves in the few trees nearby.”

“The wood thrush has vanished, seeking the place that's not felt the crush of man's embrace.”

I will continue covering this development, so if you have any concerns or more information, please feel free to reach out to me at zwatkins@t-g.com.