Environment

BREAKING: Concerned about methyl bromide, DEQ puts log fumigation permits on hold

David Smith of Malec Brothers was pummeled with angry questions from community members at a public hearing in Delco in May. (File photo: Lisa Sorg)

The NC Department of Environmental Quality today is recommending that the state regulate emissions of methyl bromide, a chemical used in log fumigation. As a result, DEQ has put on hold four pending air permit applications.

These include one from the Australian company, Malec Brothers, which requested to emit up to 140 tons of methyl bromide near the small communities of Delco and Riegelwood; and another by Royal Pest Solution, which proposed emitting a smaller amount, under 10 tons, in Scotland Neck, in Halifax County.The two others are Pinnacle World Trade in Williamston, in Martin County, and Renewable Green Inc. in South Mills, in Camden County.

DAQ has notified the five facilities that are operating that it will modify their permits after 60 days, the timeframe required by law. These are RLS Log Facility in Elizabethtown in Bladen County; Royal Pest Solutions in Chadbourn, in Columbus County; Royal Pest, which has two locations in Wilmington; and Flowers Timber in Seven Springs, in Wayne County.

“After additional review, we concluded a multi-faceted approach was vital to safeguard the public health and address the significant community concerns about these facilities,” said Mike Abraczinskas, Division of Air Quality director, in a prepared statement. “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 hazarous air pollutant creates a potential public health risk we must address.”

There is no federal guidance on methyl bromide emissions — which not only can harm human health, but also deplete the ozone layer — so DEQ is asking the Environmental Management Commission to develop a rule to require log fumigation operations to take appropriate measures to safeguard public health.

The Division of Air Quality will also ask the Secretaries’ Scientific Advisory Board to consider establishing an acceptable ambient level for methyl bromide and to designate it as a state Toxic Air Pollutant. These types of pollutants are known or suspected to cause cancer or other serious health effects, such as reproductive effects or birth defects, or adverse environmental effects, according to the EPA. They are more rigorously regulated.

Meanwhile, the Division of Air Quality intends to require permit holders to capture and control a minimum of 90 percent of methyl bromide emissions. DAQ’s research shows feasible capture and control technologies exist and should be included in all permit applications.

“After additional review, we concluded a multi-faceted approach was vital to safeguard the public health and address the significant community concerns about these facilities,” Abraczinskas said.

The Malec Brothers application drew significant outcry from Columbus County residents. The fumigation operation would have been just a mile from a school and would have been the state’s largest emitter of methyl bromide.

Royal Pest Solutions, which had proposed a smaller facility in Scotland Neck, had been penalized several times in Virginia for failing to adhere to environmental and safety regulations.

After public protests, Royal Pest withdrew its application for an operation in Wilmington.

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