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EPA levies $328,334 fine against Sauder Woodworking Co.

ARCHBOLD, Ohio - Sauder Woodworking Co. faces a $328,334 fine for air pollution generated by its sawdust-burning power plant that provides energy to its factory in Archbold, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said Monday.

The company's top executives said the furniture maker plans to challenge the complaint, filed by the federal EPA's Midwest regional office in Chicago.

Sauder said that any violations of air-quality standards have been as a result of malfunctions that were promptly addressed.

"We feel we've been exemplary stewards here," said Kevin Sauder, president and chief executive officer of Sauder Woodworking. "Given the amount of deviation, we were very surprised that the [U.S.] EPA chose to pursue this from a penalty standpoint."

The U.S. EPA said Sauder violated state and federal regulations by emitting excessive particles, nitrogen oxides, and volatile organic compounds from its sawdust-fired boilers. The latter two pollutants work with ozone in the atmosphere to create smog.

The agency also said Sauder violated record-keeping requirements and failed to properly monitor emissions from its boilers.

The U.S. EPA said it met with Sauder twice after learning of problems in April, 2008, and again in February.

Mr. Sauder and Garrett Tinsman, the company's executive vice president of operations, said the power plant - now in its 16th year of operation - has exceeded its permitted threshold for discharges only on occasions when equipment has temporarily failed.

Such problems were quickly corrected, they said.

"That adds to our confusion and surprise in this case," Mr. Tinsman said. "What the U.S. EPA has decided to do is [choose to fine us because] we went over the guidelines one-half of 1 percent of the time."

Inhaling high concentrations of particulates can have adverse health effects, particularly in children, the elderly, and people with heart and lung disease, the federal EPA said.

Nitrogen oxides can irritate the lungs and can decrease resistance to respiratory infections. They also contribute to the formation of smog and acid rain.

Smog can cause respiratory problems, including coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, and chest pain.

People with asthma, children, and the elderly are especially at risk.

Sauder has 30 days to file an answer and request a hearing, the U.S. EPA said.

- Larry Vellequette

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