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EPA formally redesignates Rhinelander as it meets federal air quality standards

Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency announced the Rhinelander area will be formally redesignated as having met healthy air quality standards.

It’s the end project that started nearly a decade ago.

In 2013, air quality monitors in the area found sulfur dioxide levels in a small area of Rhinelander had risen above the healthy standard.

The EPA and Wisconsin DNR identified the Rhinelander papermill as the biggest contributor to air pollution.

The two agencies worked with the mill to bring the sulfur dioxide levels back down to a healthy standard, according to DNR Air Program Public Information Specialist Craig Czarnecki.

He says the mill retired four coal-fired boilers and they reduce the coal’s sulfur content among other things.

“As a result of all these actions over the last few years, sulfur dioxide concentrations decreased by more than 75% and that area began meeting the standard back in 2018,” said Czarnecki.

WXPR reached out Alhstrom-Munksjo for an interview about what went into this process.

The head of marketing sent this statement in response:

“During this multiyear process, the Rhinelander Paper Mill has reduced its SOx emissions by approximately 65%. Sustainability is top of mind for us at Ahlstrom-Munksjo, and we are committed to creating fiber-based solutions that lead to a more sustainable life. Part of this commitment is ensuring we are contributing to our communities. Therefore we are pleased to see the positive results from the significant capital expenditures we have made to our facility, while working in partnership with Wisconsin DNR and the EPA.”

Czarnecki said the lower sulfur dioxide levels mean a healthier life for humans, plants, and animals in the area.

“Sulfur dioxide is a respiratory irritant and is definitely a public health concern. It can affect symptoms of asthma. It affects children and elderly and things like that,” he said.

The DNR will continue to monitor air quality in the area as part of its state-wide monitoring effort.

As a result of this new designation, the entire state of Wisconsin now meets the latest federal sulfur dioxide air quality standards.

Katie Thoresen is WXPR's News Director/Vice President.
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