NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) -- Many residents of North Little Rock’s historic Argenta District have complained over the last couple years about the smell near the rail yard. Now, the company responsible is promising changes.
“We feel we made a major breakthrough,” stated Harry Weissenstein. Weissenstein is one of the founders of Clean Air for Argenta, a group that pushed for increased regulation on the Nevada Railroad Materials facility.
NRM plates railroad ties. The wooden ties come pre-plated with creosote, a tar-like chemical that prevents rotting. Creosote evaporates during the first couple months after application, creating a strong odor. People who live nearby claim it has made them sick.
“My throat started getting sore,” Weissenstein recalled of his first exposure to creosote. “And I talked to some of the neighbors and found out what the problem was.”
Weissenstein researched NRM’s permit with the state and discovered that the company planned to have no more than 26,000 railroad ties on-site at a time, and they would be at least 60 days old, which would limit the potential for pollution.
After receiving complaints from Clean Air for Argenta and North Little Rock Mayor Joe Smith, ADEQ opened an investigation. During an inspection, managers with NRM claimed that the yard held between 24,000 and 78,000 ties at any moment, depending on whether Union Pacific canceled any orders. A further analysis by Trinity Consultants showed that NRM had 99,061 ties on its property in August, and that more than 20,000 of those were less than one month old, meaning they were likely to pollute in high levels. During the year from September 2015-August 2016, the analysis concluded that NRM emitted more than seven tons of creosote into the air.
“They were under a crunch from the railroad, as far as the volume of output that they had to produce,” Mayor Smith said. “But I think, now, that they understand that the original agreement is requiring them to follow the rules.”
In a written statement, a spokesman for NRM said the company acted immediately after receiving the report from ADEQ. Among the actions it has taken: the company has removed most, if not all, ties that are less than 60 days old from the yard; notified its manufacturer that it will no longer accept ties less than 60 days old; and pledged to work with the manufacturer to document that all ties are at least 60 days old.
“By implementing these steps, actual emissions for the site going forward are projected to be less than two tons per year,” said David Woodard, “and may be less than one ton per year depending on the number of ties present.”
“Nevada Rail, I think, wants to do good,” Smith mentioned, “and I believe that they’ll make the necessary adjustments, to make our quality of life in downtown a little bit better.”
Smith said he wanted to make changes, but did not have the authority to do so.
"We understand the issue,” he stated. “I just didn't have the legal leg to stand on. And with ADEQ getting involved, it gave us that hammer, if you will, to require the company to follow the rules."
“They’re saying they’re gonna do it,” Weissenstein added. “We’re hoping they will.”
Weissenstein said he wants NRM to go even further. He suggested that if the company restricted itself to 20,000 ties that are at least 90 days old, the risk of pollution would be almost zero.