Clean Air Carolina and the North Carolina Coastal Federation hosted a meeting on Feb. 7 in WHQR’s MC Erny Gallery to update concerned members of the community on the current state of air pollution in North Carolina and to reiterate the results of an independent study on the potential health impacts of air pollution resulting from Titan Cement’s proposed cement plant in Castle Hayne.
Concerned members from around the community attended to discuss the risks posed by Titan Cement and brainstorm ways to get information to the public.
Sarah Gilliam, coordinator for the Stop Titan Action Network, said New Hanover County is currently ranked No. 1 in the state for total toxic pollutants released. It is estimated that the county releases 5.6 million pounds of toxins per year. Beaufort is ranked second, releasing 4 million pounds.
The health impact study was conducted in 2011 by ICF International, an independent consulting agency, and was funded by the Education Foundation of America through a grant awarded to the Stop Titan Action Network and prepared for the Southern Environmental Law Center.
Mike Giles, coastal advocate for the North Carolina Coastal Federation, said this study differed from the study conducted by the Division of Air Quality in that it analyzed health impacts of negative emissions on a local level during a five-month period from May to September rather than just ensuring it met state-approved emissions levels.
“Federal air pollution regulations are not protective of the public health,” said June Blotnik, executive director of Clean Air Carolina.
The study chose the period of time from May to September because summer months produce the highest levels of ground level ozone and more people are in town during those months.
The ICF study concluded that during the five-month period, health problems caused by air pollutants released by Titan Cement would result in over 50 lost work days, 170 missed school days and 150 restricted activity days for people ages 18-65 per month in New Hanover, Pender and Brunswick counties.
The study also concluded that the pollutants would cause an average of 64 cases of acute respiratory symptoms and increase the annual burden of health costs in the region by $13.5 million.
The two major forms of air pollution that would be emitted from the proposed cement plant would be ground-level ozone and particulate matter 2.5, or PM 2.5.
While ground-level ozone pollution has been linked to a variety of respiratory issues, of particular concern among those attending the meeting was PM 2.5.
PM 2.5 is composed of fine particles of dust that are particularly hazardous because, when inhaled, they are not cleared by nasal passages or normal breathing, and become incorporated into the vasculature of the lungs. PM 2.5 has been linked to lung cancer, exacerbation of COPD, chronic lung disease and heart attacks.
“There is no safe level of PM 2.5,” said Dr. Bob Parr, a local emergency room physician and outspoken member of Medical Advocates for Healthy Air.
Parr said he recently checked the PM 2.5 levels at an air quality monitoring station near the location of the proposed cement plant, and found it to already be at levels injurious to health.
Currently, the largest contributor to PM 2.5 pollution in the county is the coal-burning Sutton Power Plant. Fortunately, the plant will soon be converting to natural gas.
“When the Sutton Power Plant converts to natural gas, 95 percent of those emissions will be cut out,” Parr said. “Once that happens, our air quality without Titan is rosy. Our air quality with Titan is messy.”
Titan was issued an air quality permit by the DAQ in September 2009. An appeal is currently pending.