AUGUSTA — Gov. Jane Mills signed a bill into law Tuesday that requires the state to notify cities and towns of federal air quality violations.

The new law was prompted by concerns originating in South Portland, where residents did not know that a petroleum storage facility had violated emissions limits in its permits until the federal Environmental Protection Agency filed a lawsuit in federal court.

“Ensuring impacted communities are notified of air quality violations is a matter of transparency and public health,” said Sen. Rebecca Millett, D-Cape Elizabeth, the sponsor of the bill.

For years, Global Partners LP, a Massachusetts-based company with a 10-tank facility in South Portland, exceeded its emissions cap for hazardous volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, according to the EPA.

VOCs include a variety of chemicals that can cause adverse health effects such as eye, nose and throat irritation, headaches, nausea, and damage to the liver, kidneys and the central nervous system, the EPA said.

VOCs also contribute to the formation of ground-level ozone. Breathing ozone can trigger a variety of health problems, particularly for children, the elderly and anyone with lung diseases such as asthma. Ground-level ozone also can harm sensitive vegetation and ecosystems.

South Portland residents and officials said they were surprised when the EPA filed a lawsuit and consent decree against Global in March.

City officials and residents said they should have been told long ago about the alleged violations and health risks.

The consent decree outlines the terms of a proposed settlement that would force Global to pay $190,000 in penalties and reduce emissions at its facility off Lincoln Street, at the end of Clark Road, near Forest City Cemetery.

Residents have expressed anger and confusion about the lawsuit and proposed settlement, especially after the city’s attorney said the Maine DEP doesn’t agree that Global violated its emissions license.

The news led some residents to worry that industrial odors coming from the tanks and terminals are more than a nuisance and that the air might be harming them and their families.

That residents and the city were not notified of the emission permit violations by either the state or the federal government prompted additional concern and in April state regulators agreed to work with the City of South Portland to establish a temporary air-quality monitoring program.

Millett said the new state law will ensure local municipalities have the information they need to keep their residents informed of any potential impacts to air quality in their community.

The law will takes effect 90 days after the Legislature adjourns, which is expected later this week.

 

 

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