Fortron confirms plans to address plant’s odor emissions

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Fortron Industries (Photo: Matt Bennett/WWAY)

NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NC (WWAY) — A New Hanover County plant will shut down for two weeks next month as they work on a solution to try and stop odor emissions.

The odor is described as a “cat urine” smell, which is linked to Fortron Industries on Highway 421.

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Fortron is a manufacturing facility, which is a joint venture between Ticona, a subsidiary of Celanese Corporation, and Kureha Chemicals Industry.

Fortron has operated in New Hanover County for more than 25 years. The plant
manufactures a plastic that is used in fibers, vehicles, electronic devices and other products that people use every day such as cell phones.

“We understand there have been concerns among residents regarding our plant – particularly an odor – and we assure you we take all concerns from our neighbors seriously,” said Travis Jacobsen, Fortron and Celanese Global Corporate Communications Director.

The company says the odor is generated as they wash their polymer with acetone.  Impurities in the acetone form a “mercaptan” compound, known as MMP (4-methyl-4-mercapto-2-pentanone), that is smelled in extremely low quantities in the air, 1 part per trillion. In comparison, Jacobsen said, a jasmine flower has an odor threshold of approximately 170,000 ppt.

The MMP compound is not harmful or dangerous to human health or to the environment, said Jacobsen.

Weather conditions can affect the odor’s intensity, with calm, cool nights having the most impact.

Rep. Deb Butler told us on Wednesday that the NC Department of Air Quality has ordered Fortron to come up with a plan of action to address the smell by September 4. The NC DAQ has received numerous complaints from residents about the smell. Butler said she’s been in contact with executives at the company who told her they think they have found a solution.

“We believe that the pressure release valves, on the equipment for safety purposes, may be a potential source of the odor emissions. During the shutdown we will be replacing those valves with the best available control technology,” Jacobsen said.

The plant will shutdown in late September for the equipment upgrades.

Jacobsen said there will be no reductions in staff while the shutdown takes place.