Drywall producer fined twice in three years for air pollution

By: - June 23, 2022 2:43 pm

Modern drywall is made by combining the soft rock gypsum with water, soap and other materials and sandwiching it between thick layers of paper. (Photo by Jared Strong/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

A Fort Dodge drywall manufacturer has repeatedly failed to properly maintain various components of its facility, which has led to numerous air-quality violations in the past two decades, according to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

National Gypsum Company was fined $10,000 in 2019 for excessive carbon monoxide emissions. The company — now operating as Gold Bond Building Products, a reflection of the brand name of its drywall — was fined another $10,000 recently for particulate matter emissions that exceeded state limits, DNR documents show.

Those fines were the maximum allowable under state law that can be levied through administrative orders.

The company uses gypsum — a soft rock — to produce wall panels that are commonly used for the insides of houses and other buildings. One of the final steps in the manufacturing of such drywall is to cure it in a large kiln.

The company’s air-quality problems date back to at least 2001, when tests of the exhausts from its kilns showed elevated levels of carbon monoxide and sulfur dioxide, according to DNR documents. The company attributed the violations to “worn out burner parts, malfunctioning fans and improper damper settings.”

Despite some upgrades after those tests, the company continued to violate emissions requirements until at least February 2002, the documents show. Then in 2018, tests revealed that the company’s kilns were emitting up to 12 times the allowable amount of carbon monoxide. The company said older burners needed to be replaced to fix the problem.

The company knew about the excessive emissions for months before reporting it to the DNR despite being required to notify the department within eight hours or at the start of the next work day. That led to the first DNR fine and further equipment upgrades.

In October 2020, tests of the kiln exhaust showed it complied with carbon monoxide and sulfur dioxide requirements but violated the limits for particulate matter, a recent DNR order said. Some of those particle emissions were more than six times what is allowed.

Specifically, the facility was emitting too many particles that are 10 micrograms in diameter or less — much smaller than the diameter of a human hair, for example — that can be inhaled deep into people’s lungs. Depending on the level of exposure, their health effects can range from coughing to bronchitis and other, more serious ailments, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Those particles are the result of burning natural gas and drying the gypsum board, said Mark Fields, a senior environmental specialist for the DNR’s Air Quality Bureau.

Further testing in 2021 showed the company’s emissions were still out of compliance, and it failed to meet deadlines to submit plans to fix the problem and permit applications to update its equipment. Gold Bond provided its plans in October 2021 and the last of its permit applications in March 2022.

As part of an agreement with the DNR that was signed in May 2022, the company said it will start upgrading the equipment within three months of receiving DNR permits. It further agreed to pay the second $10,000 fine.

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Jared Strong
Jared Strong

Senior reporter Jared Strong has written about Iowans and the important issues that affect them for more than 15 years, previously for the Carroll Times Herald and the Des Moines Register. His investigative work exposing police misconduct has notched several state and national awards. He is a longtime trustee of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council, which fights for open records and open government. He is a lifelong Iowan and has lived mostly in rural western parts of the state.