Chatham’s Dirty Corner

Ever since the “divine right of kings” was claimed centuries ago, it has become routine that the wealthy and powerful exercise this false authority to usurp that which is common to all of us; and by common I mean natural resources. Pushing peasants off the commons to graze more livestock, murdering whole races of indigenous peoples to take their land or scooping up millions of tons of fish with huge factory trawlers and ruining the lives of traditional fishing cultures. It is these very crimes that enrich the few at the expense of natural systems and the peoples who once depended on them.

The regularity with which these acts are committed has anesthetized us to the devastation they cause. So when it comes to such offenses in our own backyards, we hardly notice. A case in point is the pollution of the air and water in Moncure Township, Chatham County.

According to Scorecard.org, a rating service of the Environmental Defense Fund, three Moncure businesses rated among the worst in the nation for air and water pollution. CP&L, a Progress Energy coal-fired power plant on the banks of the Cape Fear River, Sierra Pine, manufacturer of fiberboard, and Honeywell, makers of woven fabrics. Respectively, the pollutants in question are dioxin, a known carcinogen, formaldehyde also associated with cancer, and antimony, which causes bronchitis and emphysema.

These types of pollution are allowed by North Carolina under a Title V permit for facilities that have the potential to emit 25 tons or more per year of combined hazardous air pollutants. I’m neither chemist nor epidemiologist, but 25 five tons of poison a year per facility multiplied by 1400 such sites statewide is more toxicity than I want in my air, water and soil. Yet, North Carolina deems these limits adequate to protect “acceptable health standards” according to Keith Overcash of the state Division of Air Quality (DAQ).

Arsenic, benzene, formaldehyde, hydrogen sulfide, dioxin and more that a hundred other chemicals are the results of combustion sources like coal-fired furnaces, asphalt plants, boilers, and the above mentioned facilities. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recognizes that many of these pollutants bio-accumulate and persist in our streams, soils and food chain. (Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League: Poison Loophole).

Partial testing of less than 60% of North Carolina waters by the Department of Environment and
Natural Resources determined that 1000 miles of North Carolina Rivers plus an additional
29,522 acres of freshwater lakes, reservoirs and impoundments are impaired for mercury.

Furthermore, the DAQ bases their policy merely on the “health impacts of inhalation only.” This flawed methodology ignores the fact that these toxins enter humans, mammals, and fish by water and soil through ingestion. Formaldehyde is soluble in water and percolates its way into wells. Some toxins are fat soluble and concentrate in dairy products. (Poison Loophole) So, depending on which way the wind is blowing, poisonous chemicals from the above sites will be drifting onto schools, vegetable gardens, farms and groundwater downwind. The DAQ’s version is only a fraction of the toxic truth.

Again, this is what corporations have done since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution: create a product, sell it at handsome profit and leave consumers to pay for the diseases that are the by-products of their processes. Economists call them “externalities.” When you don’t have to clean up your mess profits are fatter.

How did our state get to this point?

In 1998, while North Carolina waited for the feds to regulate these combustion sources, they decided to grant temporary exemptions so as not to duplicate what the EPA might eventually decide. Well, the feds never got around to making a ruling, and now the state wants to make these exemptions permanent for combustion sources in production before March 2009.

This hands off attitude toward corporate polluters stinks like the breeze blowing across the Sierra Pine fiberboard plant. A good friend who does Audobon Society bird counts in the area likened the odor to the formaldehyde stench of an embalmed corpse. That’s bad policy and bad business!

If greed motivates companies to persist in dirty manufacturing practices, they will be displaced by the new green economy just like America’s antiquated auto industry dinosaurs. This is where some helpful prodding from government could come in handy.

Senator Bob Atwater, one of the chief environmental officers in state government proclaimed on his campaign re-election website, “”This Region has given me everything I have and I’ve tried to give back. As your State Senator, I’m ready to do even more in Raleigh. I feel an obligation to this region to make it happen.”

Well, Senator Atwater, we’ve got the perfect way for you to discharge your sense of obligation: regulate these filthy combustion sources and serve your constituents by working to clean up the air, water and soil that provide their daily bread. Will you stand silent and support the polluters or will you speak on our behalf and act to preserve a healthy, beautiful, prosperous North Carolina?
It’s time for you to be the leader we voters think you are!

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