For many in New England, fresh powdered snow is a welcome sign of the season. For Maine mother Jill Callela, the flakes showcase something much darker — the dirty air her family is breathing.
“OK, we have black snow again,” Callela, 39, said, remembering recent winters when the factory directly across the river from her home in Bradley, Maine, polluted the snow in her yard with what she says was lead-laden soot spewed from its smokestack.
Tests Callela had done have shown elevated levels of lead in the snow, she said. Icy winds sweeping over the Penobscot River behind her home amplified the problem.
“It was in everyone’s house and got into the blowers in our cars,” Callela said. “When we would turn on our heaters it would come through the vents.”
The factory, Old Town Fuel & Fiber, a paper mill, has over the past five years racked up $267,000 in federal air pollution fines for releasing illegal amounts of carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide and methanol into the air above its facility.
Callela claims her complaints about the mill to state regulators have been ignored even though it is among a number of New England facilities labeled “high priority violators” by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. A facility can become a high priority violator, or HPV, by exceeding emission limits, violating a local state or federal order or meeting other criteria developed by the EPA to identify polluters in need of close scrutiny.
An investigation by the New England Center for Investigative Reporting shows that regulators in Maine and nearby states have taken months and even years to sanction facilities violating the Clean Air Act — even those the government itself has called HPVs, such as the Old Town paper mill.