DEQ approves Owens Corning insulation plant in Gresham

New plant opening 2009; to employ 35

Whitney Malkin, The Oregonian

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality approved Owens Corning's revised plans to produce insulation in Gresham, granting the company a permit to finish construction and start production.

(WENA Editor: read Kimberly Howard, General Manager, Owens Corning Foam Insulation, Dec 2007 hearing statement here)

DEQ's decision last week comes after years of environmental controversy about the plant. Owens Corning, in its May 2004 permit application, originally intended to use an ozone-depleting greenhouse gas, HCFC-142b, during production of foam insulation.

After public outcry and a federal lawsuit, the Ohio-based Owens Corning developed a manufacturing method -- using a blend of gases known as hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), carbon dioxide and water -- to blow bubbles into the foam.

The revised recipe, which the company said will reduce the plant's global warming potential by 70 percent, earned the DEQ permit, pending a few changes.

The department found two of the five proposed gases have not been approved as CFC replacements under Environmental Protection Agency rules, said DEQ representative George Davis. Owens Corning expects the gases to be approved, however, and the permit allows the company 90 days to submit them.

The company will also be required to periodically perform HCFC tests on foam produced at other plants but recycled for use in Gresham.

Because of a desire to preserve competitive advantage, the company has not disclosed which of the five gases will be used. But Davis said new greenhouse gas regulations likely will force the company to report which products it uses by 2010.

DEQ estimates show the Gresham plant will produce about 1.4 million tons of carbon dioxide each year -- increasing Multnomah County's annual emissions by an estimated 15 percent.

Despite global warning concerns, Kim Howard, Owens Corning's manager for foam insulation, said the insulation produced at the plant will help reduce fossil fuel emissions in the state by cutting the amount of fossil fuels burned to heat homes.

The company plans to open the Gresham site, at Interstate 84 and 181st Avenue, by next year, Howard said. The plant will employ about 35 people.

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