Environment

DEQ slow its roll on approving methyl bromide emissions from proposed log fumigation; Royal Pest has dicey history

 

Sandy Hester and his daughter, Mary, implore state environmental officials to deny the air permit for a fumigation operation near Delco. “What you’re doing is insane,” Mary said. A public hearing and information session were held in May at East Columbus High School. (File photo: Lisa Sorg)

Two critical air permits involving methyl bromide are still under review by the NC Department of Environmental Quality, placing the companies’ plans for log fumigation on hold.

Royal Pest Solutions, based in New Castle, Del., and Malec Brothers, headquartered in Australia, had submitted applications for air permits last November. Although methyl bromide has been phased out in most countries because of its toxicity and its depletion of the ozone layer, there are exemptions. China, for example, requires logs entering its borders to be fumigated with methyl bromide to kill any invasive pests.

The two proposed fumigation facilities would export logs, most of them timbered in North Carolina, to China.

As Policy Watch reported in May, Malec Brothers proposed a log fumigation facility in rural Columbus County, near Delco and Riegelwood. That operation, which would be within a mile of a school, would emit 100 to 140 tons of methyl bromide each year, as much as 40 times more than the amount emitted from all sources statewide. Overwhelming community opposition prompted DEQ’s Division of Air Quality to slow down its review to further consider the public comments.

Division of Air Quality spokeswoman Sharon Martin said Malec Brothers has not amended its application to change emission amounts or controls. The company would place logs in large shipping containers, then infuse them with methyl bromide gas for 16 to 72 hours.

The containers would then be opened to allow any remaining gas to escape. The company’s air permit application stated that it would contain any excessive methyl bromide leaks using “sandbags and duct tape.”

As for Royal Pest Solutions, it has proposed a smaller facility at 476 Lees Meadow Road in Scotland Neck that would emit up to 9.5 tons of methyl bromide each year. Like Malec Brothers, that proposed operation would also use shipping containers for fumigation. However, according to Royal’s air permit application, the company would also use the tarp method. Logs would be piled on the ground, covered by a plastic tarp and fumigant would be injected inside. The emissions from the bulk piles beneath the tarp would be vented through a 30-foot stack.

Anne Bookout, vice president and general counsel for Royal Pest Solutions, told Policy Watch the company’s permit is still pending. “I understand that the regulators are not issuing any fumigation permits until they have resolved some of their internal issues with fumigation.”

The Lees Meadow Road neighborhood includes other industry, such as a lumberyard. But the facility would also lie a half-mile east-northeast of the Sylvan Heights Bird Park, a main tourist destination for Halifax County, as well as a quarter-mile from St. Matthew Holy Church. According to the EPA’s Environmental Justice Screen, of the 2,193 people who live within two miles of the proposed facility, 79 percent are from communities of color.

Emails obtained under the Public Records Act show that on May 1, Charles McEachern, an environmental engineer with the Division of Air Quality, told Bookout that “given the public hearing” for the Malec Brothers permit and “ongoing internal staff discussions” additional changes to the permit could be necessary. “At this time, your permit will be placed on hold,” in part, pending the” outcome of the Malec Brothers public hearing.”

In 2015, Royal was ordered to stop its fumigation operations at Suffolk County, Va., facility. The Virginia DEQ revoked the company’s air permit for failure to notify the agency before construction, anticipated startup, and actual startup. According to public documents, Royal also did not obtain a permit before construction; nor did it submit a Title V permit
application within one year of startup of the facility.

Last year, Virginia DEQ cited Royal’s Chesapeake, Va., fumigation operation, fining it $33,000 for violations of its air permit. Those violations included failure to meet any of the three minimum requirements: The company did not maintain a 300-foot zone that was off-limits to the public; it did not use a capture and control system for the fumigant; and it did not use monitoring equipment or methods to prevent levels of methyl bromide from exceeding approved concentrations in ambient air.

 

 

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