Clean Air Carolina applauds the action taken by the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality’s Division of Air Quality (DAQ) on July 26, 2018 to protect the health of communities exposed to methyl bromide, a highly toxic chemical and hazardous air pollutant used in log fumigation operations.
DAQ’s action comes after Clean Air Carolina (CAC), the Southern Environmental Law Center, the North Carolina Conservation Network, the Sierra Club and other environmental and community groups voiced opposition to a permit it issued to Malec Brothers Transport. The Malec facility permit was approved but because of public response DAQ reopened the permit, extended the comment period and held and additional public hearing. As proposed, the Malec Brothers Transport facility would be the largest methyl bromide log fumigation site in the state.
When advocates speak out
“This is important because it shows that when communities and advocates speak out DAQ listens and works to protect public health,” said Rachel McIntosh-Kastrinsky, manager of the CAC program, Medical Advocates for Healthy Air, a network of more than 700 medical and healthcare professionals across the state. “We are thrilled that DAQ is taking the initiative to be the first state that is working on regulations to limit the emission of a chemical that can have dire health effects on the surrounding community. We also appreciate DAQ’s active engagement and response to community members and groups on this important local issue.”
Following a review of current and proposed log fumigation facilities in North Carolina, including the Malec Brothers Transport operation in Columbus County, DAQ is recommending that the state Environmental Management Commission develop a rule to require such operations to take measures to safeguard public health. Further, the agency wants the state Secretaries’ Scientific Advisory Board to consider establishing an acceptable ambient level for methyl bromide and to designate it as a state toxic air pollutant.
DAQ also intends to require permit holders to capture and control a minimum of 90 percent of methyl bromide emissions after research indicated that feasible capture and control technologies exist and should be included in all permit applications. The action by DAQ makes North Carolina the first state to move forward with a technology and risk-based rulemaking, which is something the EPA typically offers at the federal level but not for methyl bromide when used for log fumigation. DAQ also plans to encourage EPA to set regulations on the chemical when used in such settings.
“As more businesses seek to use methyl bromide at log fumigation sites in our state, the lack of specific federal or state regulatory measures for the use of this hazardous air pollutant creates a potential public health risk we must address,” said Mike Abraczinskas, DAQ director.
DAQ has directed Malec Brothers Transport to provide more information on additional monitoring and safety measures. Specifically, they must provide a plan for capture and control technology and operation limits to safeguard public health. The application is on hold until the requested information is received and evaluated by DAQ permitting staff. The Environmental Justice impact statement and a report on the state of air quality surrounding the proposed facility is available here.
Another lumber fumigation facility formerly owned by Royal Pest Solutions, now TIMA Capital, in Wilmington had asked the DAQ for a permit that would allow it to release up to 90 tons of methyl bromide per year. The company has reportedly decided not to pursue the permit because of the public response. Applications for several additional facilities are also on hold pending evaluation of their monitoring protocols, capture and control processes and proposed operational limits.
What is methyl bromide?
Methyl bromide is an odorless, colorless gas used to control pests in agriculture and shipping. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has restricted its use and reduced the amount used each year because it depletes the ozone layer. Most uses of methyl bromide have been banned by the EPA due to high toxicity and ozone depletion; treatment for shipping is one of few remaining allowed uses.
Methyl bromide is considered a “super pollutant” because of its combined health and environmental impacts. While the chemical is regulated under the Clean Air Act, there are no protections for methyl bromide when it is used in high concentrations to fumigate logs. Studies have shown that people living near (within five miles) of such fumigation sites have increased neurological development and respiratory issues.
See Clean Air Carolina’s press release on the state’s action.