RUMFORD – High fuel costs, production increases and one company’s acquisition of a natural gas-fired power plant accounted for an increase in toxic pollutants in 2007 at paper mills in Rumford and Jay, and mill officials said on Thursday.

Toxic emissions and waste management data released last Friday by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency revealed that 99 facilities in Maine reported releasing 11.1 million pounds of chemicals into the environment. That’s up 507,291 pounds over 2006 releases.

While Maine’s numbers increased, data from the five other New England states show their numbers decreased by about 838,080 pounds to 26.7 million pounds.

Approximately 45 percent of Maine releases were emitted into the air, while 30 percent were discharged to water.

The federal Toxic Release Inventory report doesn’t indicate illegal discharges of pollutants to the environment.

Instead, review and permitting programs by the EPA and states work to ensure the public and environment are not subjected to unhealthy levels of pollution.

Aroostook County french fry maker McCain Foods in Easton reported the largest toxic release in Maine at 2,211,487 pounds.

McCain was followed by Verso Paper Holdings LLC in Jay at 1,909,959 pounds; NewPage Corp. in Rumford at 1,854,694 pounds; S.D. Warren Co. in Skowhegan at 1,740,639 pounds, and Domtar Maine Corp., in Baileyville at 1,063,591.

Julie Churchill, an environmental specialist with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, and Toxic Release Inventory coordinator Dwight Peavey of Boston, said McCain’s numbers are so large because it processes potatoes. That drives up nitrate releases into Prestile Stream.

Verso spokesman Bill Cohen said the Jay mill reduced its average emissions per ton of produced paper by nearly 50 percent in the past decade.

However, Verso’s 2007 toxic releases were mostly driven by ammonia emissions from Androscoggin Energy’s old Calpine Corp. natural gas-plant generators.

“In the past, those emissions were listed separately under Calpine, so when we bought them, those emissions were lumped into ours,” Cohen said. “So, naturally, our emissions jumped, because we took them over in 2007.”

Methanol emissions also increased in Verso’s wastewater treatment plant due to site-specific testing, but Cohen said company officials weren’t sure why methanol was up.

Higher production also drove increased emissions.

Despite the increases, Churchill and Cohen said Verso has made a considerable effort to substitute less harmful chemicals for more toxic chemicals like methylene chloride, chlorine, xylene, sulfuric acid, and anhydrous ammonia.

Churchill attributed zinc increases at the Rumford mill to its burning of chipped tires in its cogeneration boilers instead of more costly No. 2 heating fuel. Verso doesn’t burn tires at the Jay mill but does at its Bucksport mill, Cohen said.

High manganese emissions at NewPage and Verso are generated by another alternative fuel source: biomass burning.

NewPage spokesman Tony Lyons said he couldn’t explain why the Rumford mill’s emission numbers had increased, because mill officials have yet to review and analyze the data due to large layoffs.

About 850 NewPage employees are idled this week because the mill has been shut down for 10 days due to a decline in the coated paper market.

“There’s no one at the mill to look at the data released on Friday,” Lyons said. “We expected to be in the top 5, because any large manufacturing plant is always in the top five. Our production was a little higher in 2007, but we have not yet analyzed the data.”

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