N.C. adds methyl bromide to list of toxic air pollutants as result of public pressure

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 after this photo was taken. (© Erin Carey, N.C. Sierra Club)

After years of public pressure, stakeholder engagement, and an exhaustive rulemaking process, North Carolina has joined approximately 20 other states in regulating the use of methyl bromide in log fumigation.

The rule went into effect November 1 and is published in today’s copy of the North Carolina Register.

This rule is a big win for North Carolina’s air quality.”

—Staff Attorney Heather Hillaker

Methyl bromide is a highly toxic chemical that is known to pose many hazards to people’s health and the environment. Banned as an ozone-depleting substance under the Montreal Protocol, methyl bromide can only be used in limited circumstances, such as the fumigation of logs for pest control.

For years, local communities have been fighting back against a number of applications from companies seeking to construct large methyl bromide log fumigation operations in North Carolina. In recognition of the public health risk from methyl bromide exposure and the growing interest in use of the chemical within the state, in July 2018, the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality initiated the rulemaking process.

Almost two and half years later, methyl bromide has finally been added to the state’s list of toxic air pollutants. This is the first time the state has added a pollutant to its toxics list in 28 years.

To protect public health from methyl bromide exposure, the new rule sets both an annual and 24-hour acceptable ambient level (AAL) for methyl bromide at the facility’s fence line. Any log fumigation operation that wants to use methyl bromide must demonstrate that it can meet both of these levels before the state will issue a permit.

“While many stakeholders including SELC called for more stringent regulations for the use of methyl bromide, we are confident that the new rule will deter new, large methyl bromide operations from coming to the state,” says Staff Attorney Heather Hillaker.

At the same time, the new rule will protect local communities living near existing, smaller sources of methyl bromide by requiring those facilities to install new control devices and otherwise limit their operations to ensure compliance with the rule.

Existing facilities have until December 30, 2020, to come into compliance.

“Until a few weeks ago, there was no specific state or federal regulatory mechanism to protect the public from harms associated with acute or chronic exposure to methyl bromide,” adds Hillaker. “This rule is a big win for North Carolina’s air quality.”

Click here to read comments SELC filed in August 2019 for more on the harms associated with methyl bromide, the history of public opposition in the state, and an analysis of the proposed rule under the North Carolina regulatory structure.

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