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Smurfit-Stone Container Corp. will spend $17 million over the next two years to collect more of the hazardous air pollutants that come from its Frenchtown pulp mill.

In a presentation Thursday to the Missoula Air Pollution Control Board, the mill's senior environmental engineer said the project comes in response to new so-called "cluster rules" adopted by the federal Environmental Protection Agency and aimed at reducing emissions of 189 hazardous air pollutants.

The rules limit both wastewater discharges and air emissions; thus, the "cluster" designation. They also target specific industries - pulp and paper mills, oil refineries and aluminum factories, for example, said engineer Leif Griffin. Deadline for compliance: April 15, 2001.

At the Frenchtown mill, Griffin said the primary hazardous air pollutant is methanol, a byproduct of cooking wood. Methanol accounts for 78 percent of the toxic chemicals released by the mill.

To comply with the new wastewater limits, Smurfit-Stone decided - this past February - to close its bleach plant. "It is shut down now, and the corporation has no plans to operate it again," Griffin said. "We are in compliance for the wastewater end of the rules."

Smurfit-Stone used bleach to produce white linerboard for the outside lining of specialty cardboard boxes - for computers, pizza and fruit. All of the mill's 700,000 yearly tons of linerboard is now brown.

To comply with the air emission limits, the mill will install 17,000 feet of piping and two pieces of equipment: a steam stripper that collects and treats methanol and other "foul condensate," and a thermal oxidizer that removes - by burning them - 98 percent of the hazardous air pollutants from non-condensable or odorous gases.

"We will collect 15,000 pounds of methanol per day," Griffin said. "As a result, we anticipate some significant reduction in the amount of emissions we will report on the annual toxic release inventory. And we anticipate less odor coming from the plant."

Air Pollution Control Board members were so impressed with Smurfit-Stone's plans that they unanimously approved a resolution commending the company for its pollution-control effort. A similar resolution was adopted recently by the local Air Quality Advisory Council.

"We are really excited about this project," said Ed Scott, environmental manager at the Frenchtown mill. "It represents something very positive not only for the mill, but for our community. We are very happy the board agrees with us that this is a positive project."

A second round of cluster rules will limit the mill's metals and particulate emissions, and will go into effect on April 15, 2006.

Griffin said the company's research on those rules is still "very preliminary," and early cost estimates are sketchy - in the range of $5 million to $6 million.

The first, $17 million project is in the design stage, with selection of a general contractor expected within the next three weeks, Griffin said. Equipment purchases will begin this summer.

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