BOSTON – Paper mills in Jay and Rumford were among the top five industries in Maine that reported releasing toxic pollutants into Maine’s environment in 2006, according to data released by the Environmental Protection Agency Thursday.

And while the overall amounts detailed in the agency’s toxic release inventory are down for Maine from 2005 they are up by 2.6 percent since 2001, according to information available at the EPA’s Web site.

But most of that long-term increase reflects a change in reporting requirements, according to Robert Gardner, a Maine Emergency Management Agency hazardous materials specialist.

New toxins that were not previously required to be reported were added between 2001 and 2006, including the air emissions from heating fuels like heating oil, Gardner said.

“When we are comparing apples to apples we are down overall, but here we are comparing apples to apples with a few oranges thrown in there,” Gardner said Friday.

Oddly, the business reporting the largest toxic release in the state is french fry-maker McCain Foods in the Aroostook County town of Easton. Gardner said McCain’s numbers are so large mainly because of the heating oil emissions report, which is a result of heating a very large building for a long heating season. McCain’s factory in Maine is the largest or second largest of its type in the world, Gardner said.

Verso’s mill in Jay was ranked No. 2 on the list and Rumford’s NewPage mill was ranked third.

Companies that use any of the 650 chemicals on the EPA toxics inventory are required to report any releases of those chemicals, Tony Lyons, the director of communications at the NewPage mill, stated in an internal mill memo issued to employees Thursday.

Lyons shared the memo with the Sun Journal to help explain the NewPage mill’s high ranking.

“Of our total reported substances, zinc compounds were more than half of the quantity,” the memo stated. “The vast majority of the zinc compounds reported are contained in the ash generated from the cogeneration boilers, primarily due to our burning of chipped tires, a practice unique to Rumford.”

The memo states that the Rumford mill burns more than 3 million tires a year, and that method of disposing of old tires is a “more environmentally acceptable solution for tire disposal than landfill.” The memo notes that 25 percent of the ash is disposed of at the Farrington Mountain landfill in Mexico; the remainder of the ash is shipped to Canada and is used for stabilizing landfills there, the memo states. “If the Rumford mill were to stop burning chipped tires, we would fall from third place to fifth,” the memo states.

Bill Cohen, a spokesman for Verso in Jay, was not available for comment Thursday or Friday.

The top five chemicals reported during 2006 in Maine were:

• Nitrate compounds at 2.8 million pounds, down from 3 million pounds in 2005.

• Methanol at 2.5 million pounds, down from 2.7 million pounds in 2005.

• Zinc compounds at 1.1 million pounds, up from 1.08 million pounds in 2005.

• Manganese compounds at 1.02 million pounds, down from 1.05 million pounds in 2005.

• Ammonia at 886,754 pounds in 2006, down from 886,749 pounds in 2005.

“Reporting under (toxic release inventory) does not indicate illegal discharges of pollutants to the environment,” according to a statement by the EPA.

Each year, the EPA makes public the data reported by industries throughout the United States regarding chemical releases to air, water and land by power plants, manufacturers and other facilities which employ 10 or more workers and exceed thresholds for chemicals, the statement said.

“EPA is continuing to see lower amounts of pollutants being released to New England’s environment,” Robert W. Varney, regional administrator for EPA’s New England office, said in a statement. “We’re also getting quality data out to the public faster, thanks to more facilities reporting electronically. This helps citizens, communities, industry and our environment.”

The most recent information available is from 2006 and approximately 27.7 million pounds of chemicals were released in the six New England states, a reduction of nearly 2.6 million pounds.

In Maine, 98 facilities reported in 2006 approximately 10.6 million pounds, a reduction of 964,058 pounds from 2005.

About 47.6 percent of releases in Maine were emitted to the air and 32.5 percent of releases were discharged to water during 2006, the statement said.

Reporting includes information on chemicals released at a company’s facility, as well as those transported to disposal facilities. The information does not reflect the relative toxicity of the chemicals emitted or potential exposure to people living in a community with reported releases, the EPA stated.

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