Community rises up against N.C. timber fumigation plant

With a crowd more than twice as large as expected, the public hearing on an air permit for a new log fumigation operation in Delco, N.C. had to relocate to the middle school gym. (© Ashley Daniels)

It was supposed to be a routine public hearing about a permit for a log fumigation facility in Delco, North Carolina. But the people of Delco showed up en masse to protest. Nearly 350 people attended the meeting, with dozens speaking in opposition to the permit that would allow the company to emit up to 250 tons of a highly toxic substance into the air less than a mile from the middle school where the hearing was held.

As a result of the public outcry, the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality is extending the comment period for the permit to May 18 and said it will hold a second public hearing.

Insufficient protection

Shipping containers like these are used to fumigate North Carolina logs with toxic methyl bromide before the timber is shipped to China.

Malec Brothers Transport, an Australian company is trying to get a permit to allow it to use methyl bromide to fumigate logs to prepare them for export to China. Methyl bromide, a highly toxic chemical that also causes ozone depletion, has been banned by 150 countries, and is only allowed in the U.S. for a few uses — including log fumigation.

Methyl bromide is harmful to people even in very small concentrations and short durations, causing nervous and respiratory system failures. Severe exposure can cause paralysis, convulsions, kidney damage and death.

As SELC noted in a comment letter submitted on behalf of itself, Clean Air Carolina, Medical Advocates for Healthy Air, Cape Fear River Watch, Sierra Club North Carolina Chapter, and the North Carolina Conservation Network, DEQ’s draft permit does not protect the residents of Delco and nearby communities from the harmful effects of the methyl bromide emissions.

The permit doesn’t require adequate monitoring of methyl bromide concentrations outside the downwind boundary line of the facility.

The permit also doesn’t require the use of scrubbers or other methods to minimize, contain, or eliminate toxic emissions. Malec won’t even be required to use the 30-foot aeration discharge stack it says will be part of the operation — and which opponents say will mostly allow emissions to avoid fenceline monitoring stations.

The crowd at the public hearing — which had to be moved to the school gymnasium because the original room was at nearly double its capacity — was not mollified by company spokesmen who touted the jobs the facility would bring or the alleged safety procedures in place.

I escaped Agent Orange,” said one resident, a Vietnam-era vet. “I was a crane operator for 9/11, I escaped that. I’ll be dammed if I have to escape this. I represent myself, my wife, six horses, 17 grandkids, and 2 great grandkids. I’m not going to have them walk around with gas masks. I didn’t come here for that. If it’s that safe, let them bring it to their place, not here. As for the jobs. No job is worth that. And no one is going to be able to collect the pension from it because they won’t be alive.”

The next public hearing will be held on Tuesday, May 15 at 7 p.m. at the Acme Delco Middle School.

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