AUGUSTA, Maine — While a state study indicates the air quality in a neighborhood next to a controversial paving plant meets safety standards, neighbors say their problems with the plant are as much about quality of life as quality of air.

The odor of asphalt coming from the R.C. & Sons paving plant has been a prime complaint of several residents of the nearby Grandview neighborhood.

State Department of Environmental Protection officials said Wednesday they smelled a distinct asphalt smell when they were monitoring in the neighborhood.

But odor is not why they were there, according to Louis Fontaine, compliance manager for the DEP’s Bureau of Air Quality. They were there to determine whether the plant was emitting dangerous levels of toxic chemicals into the air. And their results indicated the plant is not.

Emissions from the plant, measured in the Grandview neighborhood which sits less than a half-mile away, were compliant with health-based standards set by the Maine Center for Disease Control and were also consistent with other sites monitored by the DEP.

Lou Craig, a Grandview resident who helped monitor the air quality after he was trained and given equipment to use by the DEP, said he was glad to see the study results.

However, he said the odor of asphalt coming into the neighborhood from the R.C. & Sons plant, which is located in a pit owned by McGee Construction, is still a nuisance impacting the ability of residents to enjoy life at their homes.

“What we’ve been preaching all along is the quality of life part of it,” Craig said. “And what we’re smelling is a nuisance.”

Daniel Twomey, air quality monitoring lab manager for DEP, said he did smell asphalt in the neighborhood while he was there monitoring. but he said the presence of odor does not indicate the air quality is unsafe or contains toxics that exceed standards. He said asphalt contains a few compounds that people are especially sensitive to, even at very low concentrations not considered to be unhealthy.

“The quantities we’re talking about are at the threshold of what we can even measure,” Twomey said. “But we can smell it. It’s our sensitivity to it that makes it stand out, not the volume of it.”

Fontaine said that other than in the case of some solid waste sites, the DEP does not regulate odor.

Tonight, city councilors will meet to discuss amendments to a city ordinance that would ban asphalt and concrete plants from the zone where the R.C. plant is located. The change would not close the plant, as its current license would still be good. However, it could lead to the license not being renewed, forcing the plant to close or move when the license expires in about a year and a half.

Copyright (c) 2011, Kennebec Journal, Augusta, Maine

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