Intel, which has manufacturing plants in Hillsboro and Aloha, is an industry leader in the production of computer microprocessor chips. With more than 17,000 employees, the company is the largest private employer in Oregon, and has been a highly-valued economic powerhouse for Washington County — and indeed for the entire state of Oregon.

Now, however, Intel is in the process of expanding dramatically in Hillsboro. Two huge plants are under construction at the company’s Ronler Acres campus. When the expansion is complete, Intel’s manufacturing processes will emit additional air pollutants and greenhouse gases. As a result, Intel needs a revised air quality permit from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to authorize new and/or increased discharges into the local airshed once the new facilities are fully functional.

In addition to its current emissions (particulate matter, 14 tons per year; sulfur dioxide, 39 tons; nitrogen oxides, 43 tons; carbon monoxide, 99 tons), Intel is asking the DEQ to authorize it to discharge up to 14 tons per year of small particulate matter, 6.4 tons of fluorides and 819,000 tons of CO2.

Intel further proposes to increase its emission of “volatile organic compounds” from the currently permitted 99 tons per year to 178 tons per year. Volatile organic compounds are described by the Environmental Protection Agency as “compounds emitted as gases from certain solids or liquids and include a variety of chemicals, some of which may have short- and long-term adverse health effects.”

While we are certainly not scientists, we do not think these emissions should simply be brushed aside as insignificant. We believe the DEQ needs to proceed cautiously in reviewing Intel’s air quality permit application because the increases being proposed are substantial, and the methods Intel will employ to safeguard the health of the public are not yet clear.

There are several steps we believe the DEQ should require of Intel as part of the current air quality permitting process:

n DEQ officials have admitted that although there are annual limits on the amount of discharges of a specific gas, there is nothing to prevent Intel from releasing a year’s amount all in one day. Yet even if it did so, the company would still be in technical compliance with the air permit as currently configured. DEQ needs to ensure there are short-term limits in place as well as the yearly emission limits.

n There needs to be a provision for monitoring emissions coming directly from the plants’ smokestacks. If there is an unexpected spike in a certain gas or chemical, the best (and earliest) place to catch the problem is at the source, rather than in a nearby neighborhood where people could be impacted.

n Continuous monitoring of emissions should be required to ensure there is no unusual chemical release that goes undetected for hours or days.

n The best “scrubber” technology needs to be put into place to reduce discharges into the air to the lowest level possible.

We realize emission control devices and monitoring equipment will likely come with a significant price tag, but we believe DEQ should err on the side of caution as it considers the proposed air quality permit for Intel.

Jill Eiland, Intel’s corporate affairs manager for Oregon, said at a public hearing in Hillsboro last week that Intel is planning to expand its monitoring and control systems.

“We currently have a significant inventory of emission control equipment and will add more with the Oregon site expansion,” Eiland said.

That is to Intel’s credit. Given that Intel is expanding its facilities in a major way, it makes sense that emission control and monitoring equipment should be expanded and enhanced in a corresponding manner — and we urge DEQ officials to see to it that it is.

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