Despite Industry Claims, Wood Pellet Industry Is Bad for Human and Planetary Health

Apr 20, 2017

Medical Advocates for Healthy Air recently joined the Concerned Citizens of Richmond County (CCRC) and The Dogwood Alliance for the Rally for Health and Environmental Justice. The rally was held in Dobbins Heights, a small, low-income, predominately African American community where the nation’s largest biomass manufacturer, Enviva, wants to build its fourth wood pellet plant in North Carolina.

The goal of the rally was to affirm and bring attention to the community’s right to clean air, clean water, standing forests and strong and healthy communities. Speakers at the rally spoke about the public health and environmental effects related to the wood pellet industry and encouraged people to join CCRC in calling on the Richmond County commissioners to place a moratorium on the construction of the Enviva wood pellet plant.

Wood Pellet Industry Health Impacts
The documented public health effects related to the wood pellet industry include the release of particulate matter into the air; around-the-clock noise pollution; spontaneous explosions and fires that have resulted when the highly flammable wood pellets are subjected to high temperatures in storage facilities; the exacerbation of respiratory illnesses like asthma from exposure to the wood dust created during the manufacturing process; and the global health impacts of climate change to which the industry is contributing.

“Our county already has one of the highest levels of childhood asthma in the region, and cancer is the leading cause of death in Richmond County,” Kim McCall, secretary of Concerned Citizens of Richmond County, said in a statement. “We are already living with a CSX station, Piedmont Natural Gas, Perdue Chicken plant, and the Duke Energy complex. This Enviva plant is an additional injustice to our community.”

Wood Pellet Contribution to Climate Change
As demand for biomass energy grows in Europe, more wood pellet plants are opening throughout the southeastern United States. The production of biomass energy has been marketed as a “green fuel” source, but studies show that relying on southeast U.S. hardwoods for pellets will actually result in greater carbon emissions than continued reliance on coal.

After cars and power plants, deforestation is the third largest source of carbon pollution. Carbon pollution is created during the harvesting, manufacturing, shipping and burning of the wood pellets, but even worse, an important carbon sink is lost when these large swaths of old growth, biologically diverse forests are clear cut.

In its report, “The Great American Stand: US Forest and The Climate Emergency”, Dogwood Alliance found that forest disturbance from logging in the Southern U.S. occurs at four times the rate than it does in the rainforests of South America, which is reducing the ability of the country’s forests to act as carbon sinks by at least 35 percent. The report also found that 85 percent of carbon loss from U.S. forests between 2006 and 2010 was driven by logging activities — five times the combined forest-related emissions from conversion, droughts, fires, insects, tree mortality, and wind.

A study by the National Wildlife Federation and the Southern Environmental Law Center found that there is a high risk to wildlife and biodiversity when wood pellet plants source their biomass from natural wetland forest stands, as Envivia is admittedly doing here in North Carolina.

Concerned Citizens of Richmond County have tried twice to attend a County Commissioners meeting to express their concerns about the Enviva plant and ask the commission to place a moratorium on the construction, but both times they have been refused, in part due to an unconstitutional rule prohibiting citizens from publicly commenting on items on the meeting’s agenda.

You can take action to help the citizens of Richmond County now by signing the Dogwood Alliance petition calling on the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality to review and revoke the air quality permit for Enviva. Sign the Dogwood Alliance peitition here.

Contributed by: Dorothy Rawleigh, CHES

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