Thank you for allowing me to answer your interesting question.
Realistically you probably have little to worry about in terms of
health hazards. While any type of fuel plant has the probability of
accidental exposure, spill, ignition, explosion, etc., the truth is
that such incidents are relatively uncommon in comparison to the
frequency of other common hazards.
DANGERS OF ETHANNOL DISTILLERIES
One of the things that responsible for the bad press that ethanol
accidents receives is the fact that ethanol plants are a fairly new
feature on our landscapes. Any time a new innovation appears there
will be critics and the activities (good or bad) are scrutinized under
a microscope. To some extent perhaps (and this is purely speculation
on my part) some of the bad press might even be biased toward the
wealthy petroleum fuel companies who would directly benefit from it if
these biofuel endeavors were to fail.
It is true that ethanol plants often have on site a number of
dangerous materials such as anhydrous ammonia, sulfuric acid, sodium
hydroxide and several other potentially hazardous compounds but the
Environmental Protections Agency, OSHA and other reputable agencies
strictly regulate the use and storage of these materials. Many people
who fear the presence of these plants seem unaware that some of these
compounds are already in their communities in factories, gas stations,
and storage facilities and substantially larger quantities of even
scarier materials pass right through their neighborhoods daily onboard
freight trains and tractor-trailer rigs.
As for the environment, well, the environment would be better off if
there were no fuel plants at all (ethanol or otherwise) and it is no
secret that an ethanol plant will probably affect the environment in
which it is located to some degree. The water table in your area may
not support such a plant because the production of ethanol requires a
great deal of water. That water, of course, must go somewhere so here
again, the availability of fresh water in your area will determine
whether or not the waste water (and how it is disposed) has an impact.
There are also a number of different distillation techniques, each
which aims to produce a specific types of fuel so depending on what
type of plant that is being proposed could also determine what impact
it might have.
PRO & CON: Even though ethanol is non-toxic, water soluble and
biodegradable and it found naturally in the fermentation of organic
materials, the fact that ethanol is ?biodegradable? does not make it
more inviting in our drinking water.
Air pollution is another concern. Ethanol plants often give off a
vapor that can be controlled but not entirely eliminated. If the
proposed plant has in place an effective thermal oxidizer (a component
that is added to the interior of the smoke stack in an attempt to
reduce the emission toxicity as well as neutralize unpleasant odors)
the environmental impact can be dramatically reduced.
PRO & CON: There are a number of different types of thermal oxidizers
which have varying degrees of success so this plan of course would
require the plant to have a good one and care would have to be taken
to insure that it always works properly. Otherwise you may notice a
decline in air quality or even an obvious odor. Furthermore, the
success rate of the filters used when the plant first opens and for
some time thereafter might be substantially more productive than what
you may experience several years down the road as the equipment ages.
Care would have to be taken to maintain these devices in order to
maintain an acceptable level of protection. As we all know, such is
not always the case in some industrial segments and their
attentiveness to these issues sometimes wanes once they become well
established and the community becomes dependent upon them for jobs and
The upshot is that we?re not talking about Chernobyl here. Most plants
that produce ethanol (ethyl alcohol, a.k.a. grain alcohol) for lack of
a better comparison is little more than a giant moonshine still
(although ethanol is denatured to prevent the fuel from being
consumed). Ethanol, like any combustible fuel, is highly flammable but
so is a rum distillery or a plant that produces Isopropyl (rubbing)
alcohol. Such a plant would potentially create jobs in your area and
also provide a tax boost to your local economy. It would also help
produce an alternative fuel source, help reduce the United States?
dependency on foreign oil, help relieve the environment of damage from
petroleum related research and recovery, and could potentially bring
other businesses to your area.
I found this series of articles to be quite informative. Be sure you
examine the links on the left for other issues.
Personally, I would not be too concerned about the presence of an
ethanol plant in my area. Would I want one to open less than a mile
from my house? I wouldn't be delighted about it, No, but not for the
reasons you might think.
Given the level of today?s technology and the strict regulatory
control I wouldn?t be as concerned about the health impact of such a
plant as I would the ?perception? of it might have on my property
values. Secondary issues are also worthy of consideration. Increased
noise and pollution from traffic to and from the facility near my
home, increased danger of traffic accidents involving fuel trucks,
wear and tear on roads in my community and other factors that citizens
often overlook when overwhelmed with consideration for the plant
itself are issues that need to be weighed. If I were in your shoes I?d
certainly bring these issues up and find out how my local government
plans to deal with these matters before forming my own opinion. It
isn?t always an issue of just opening your arms to welcome some
willing corporation into your midst, but whether or not your community
can actually support such a project and realistically sustain the
physical impact of it?s operation. For example:
-- Are they going to restrict or re-route traffic to these trucks and
-- Are they going to fund the road department well enough to handle
the new damage without raising my taxes?
-- Is there a viable plan to insure the plant strictly adheres to
-- What will the complaint process be? Does it only involve Federal
regulatory agencies (i.e. ?the runaround? and ?red tape?) or will
there be immediate local recourse as well?
-- Who is accountable, to whom and how?
-- Is our fire department going to be paid, trained, staffed and
equipped well enough to handle an accident without using all the
potential tax revenue the plant might generate?
-- What lasting financial impact would a major industrial accident
have on our police, fire, ambulance, hospitals and other emergency
personnel, and who would be expected to pay for that? Would the
taxpayers have to eat that or would the corporation reimburse the
These, and many other similarly important questions, are things a
reasonably informed person should ask and demand to know the answers
If I may, let me offer my personal opinion about these issues:
Since I would already be leaning toward saying NO (not because I
thought I might blow up or be poisoned but because I just liked the
state of my community WITHOUT the idea of a potentially problematic
ethanol plant coming in), these issues would have to be meticulously
addressed and be especially convincing before I made my decision to
support it. If my community had the resources to deal with these
issues (which are almost certain to arise) AND we would benefit from
the relationship financially, I would probably say yes (if I lived
more than a mile away). If I lived less than a mile away I probably
would not support the idea no matter what was in it for my community
or me for the reasons I mentioned. As a last resort I would try to
sway popular opinion to place the plant in its proposed location to
some other less inhabited place so I too could support it.
I hope you find that my answer exceeds your expectations. If you have
any questions about my research please post a clarification request
prior to rating the answer. Otherwise I welcome your rating and your
final comments and I look forward to working with you again in the
near future. Thank you for bringing your question to us.
Tutuzdad-ga ? Google Answers Researcher
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