Cleaner air coming to Nassau County

Companies work with EPA to drop dangerous sulfur levels


FERNANDINA BEACH, Fla. – The air in Nassau County is getting cleaner with the reduction of harmful sulfur dioxide pollution.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced it is taking final action to approve the state of Florida’s request to redesignate the Nassau County Area from nonattainment to attainment for the 2010 one-hour sulfur dioxide standard.

“Working in partnership with the state, we were able to achieve significant improvements in air quality in the Nassau County area,” acting EPA Region 4 Administrator Mary Walker said. “Meeting the national sulfur dioxide standard is a critical step in providing a healthy environment for Nassau County citizens.”

Several pulp mills, power plants and industrial facilities are concentrated in the area that have generated pollution. For nearly 10 years the FDEP has worked with those companies to develop air quality strategies to achieve and maintain safe compliance standards that match those across the state.

“Collaboration is a vital component of environmental protection,” said Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Noah Valenstein. “In this case, this effort successfully generated a plan that has resulted in substantial emission reductions and greatly improved air quality in Nassau County and will ensure this continues into the future.”

The largest sources of SO2 emissions are from fossil fuel combustion at power plants and other industrial facilities. The Nassau County Area includes two primary sources of SO2.  

The Rayonier Performance Fibers LLC Fernandina Beach Sulfite Pulp Mill is located within the Area, while WestRock CP, LLC Fernandina Beach Mill is located adjacent to the Area and is the largest source of SO2 immediately outside of the Nassau County Area.

Reduction of SO2 emissions at both sources have helped bring the Nassau County area into attainment.

Since SO2 is used as the indicator for the larger group of gaseous sulfur oxides, also known as SOx, EPA’s national ambient air quality standards for SO2 are designed to protect against exposure to the entire group of SOx . 

Control measures that reduce SO2, the sulfur oxide of greatest concern, can be expected to reduce people’s exposures to all gaseous SOx.

Short-term exposures to SO2 can harm the human respiratory system and make breathing difficult. People with asthma, particularly children, are sensitive to the effects of SO2.  

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