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Local News

New Wolfspeed Factory in Siler City Would Emit 203 Tons of Air Pollutants Per Year

Credit: iStock

by Lisa Sorg, NC Newsline

Update April 13, 12:06 p.m.: The NC Department of Environmental Quality today opened the public comment period for Wolfspeed’s air permit. Deadline is May 13. Details here.

Wolfspeed, a manufacturer of key components for electric vehicles, would emit a half dozen air pollutants at its new Chatham County plant, totaling 203 tons per year, state documents show.

The Durham-based company is behind the $5 billion project, located on 352 acres near Siler City in Chatham County. It would manufacture silicon wafers that would be then used in semiconductors for electric vehicles and mobile phones. The factory is expected to create 1,800 jobs.

The projected air emissions were included in an environmental justice report released this week by the Department of Environmental Quality. The Division of Air Quality is still reviewing the permit, which will be subject to public comment, and with enough community interest, a public hearing.

The estimates applied to emissions after reductions controls were installed. If that technology were not in place, emissions would be nearly double — 395 tons. With or without controls, concentrations of nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide and sulfur dioxide would stay the same.

A glossary of terms:

VOCs, or Volatile Organic Compounds, are found in industrial solvents, degreasers, dry cleaning agents and paint thinners. VOCs include trichloroethylene, or TCE, exposure to which has been linked to kidney cancer and a higher risk of developing non-Hodgkin lymphoma.PM 10/PM 2.5 stands for particulate matter, at the size of 10 or 2.5 microns. PM 10 is essentially visible dust. However, PM 2.5 is smaller than the width of a human hair, can burrow deep into the lungs and enter the bloodstream, causing heart and respiratory disorders. Pregnant women exposed to increased levels of PM 2.5 have a higher risk of pre-term birth; their babies are prone to low birth weight. PM 2.5 can cause or worsen asthma. Long-term exposure also been linked to dementia.NOx, or nitrogen oxides, combine with VOCs to form smog. They irritate the respiratory tract.CO stands for carbon monoxide, an odorless, colorless gas. It is produced by the burning of fossil fuels. In enclosed spaces, high levels of carbon monoxide can be fatal.SO2, sulfur dioxide, is often emitted by industrial processes. In addition to irritating the lungs and throat, the compound contributes to acid rain.HAPs stands for Hazardous Air Pollutants, a EPA classification of chemicals and compounds that can cause cancer or have other serious health effects. Hydrochloric acid is also referred to as hydrogen chloride. It can irritate the throat and respiratory tract.Graphic: DEQ

The environmental justice report analyzed census data for a one-mile radius from the Wolfspeed site. That encompasses not only parts of Chatham County, but also a sliver of Randolph County.

The report found that six census tracts within one mile of the facility have a higher percentage of Black and Latinx residents than the county and/or state average. In two census tracts, more than half of residents are persons of color.

Rates of persons with disabilities were also higher in several census tracts, as were those of people whose primary language is Spanish and who speak English as a second language — in some cases, less than fluently.

Based on the number of Spanish-speakers DEQ recommends meetings and printed materials be presented in that language as well as English.

NC Newsline is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. NC Newsline maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Rob Schofield for questions: info@ncnewsline.com. Follow NC Newsline on Facebook and Twitter.