Friday, December 31, 2010

Standing dead wood, living lungs

The EPA has listed a warning for today's air quality-- poor.  All of the Connecticut River Valley is affected, including Springfield.  Fine particulate matter is expected to exceed 35 micrograms per cubic meter averaged over 24 hours.  Besides reducing outdoor exposure for all people, the EPA suggests "The public can help reduce pollution by taking steps including: using public transportation, car pooling and/or combining trips; avoiding idling of cars and trucks; following EPA Burnwise practices for cleaner indoor wood burning; and avoiding outdoor burning."

I love burning wood.  When I was a kid, I'd sometimes sneak off the the wooded hills behiind my house, make a little fire, and pop popcorn.  Later, homesteading in Maine, I learned to scan for standing dead wood near my shelter so I could haul it home, cut it up, and burn it-- summertime in a natural firepit vented by turning back the canvas roof, wintertime in a little tin stove.  In the Springfield house I lived in for thirty years, we'd have a fire in the fireplace every fall and winter weekend, and in the summer, camping at Nickerson State Park had to include a nightly campfire.  I've breathed a hell of a lot of wood smoke during my life and I never gave it much of a thought.

That's all changed now, of course. Now I know that what you can't see or smell in wood smoke is the most dangerous of all-- fine particulate matter (FPM).  I've learned this in the year and a half community battle to stop Palmer Renewable Energy from building a biomass incinerator in Springfield.

In reviewing Palmer's latest  proposal (which it approved), the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection notes 
"the revised modeling analysis for fine particulate (PM2.5) documents that the cumulative impact of the high background concentration and the incremental emissions from the facility is 29.9 µg/m3 (of which x is attributable to the proposed facility), which is well below the current 24 hour NAAQS limit of 35 µg/m3.  The cumulative impact is, however, very close to 30.0 µg/m3, the limit EPA is considering adopting in its pending revision of the PM.2.5 limit. MassDEP has supported tightening this standard in light of the evidence linking fine particulates to adverse health impacts in sensitive populations."
(Just a note: somehow, even though PRE's new proposal will burn 1,200 tons of wood a day, instead of their proposed 700 tons, PRE projects its emissions will be less than before, thus not pushing the plant's contribution to FPM above the 30 micrograms per cubic meter That may become the new standard next year.)
I didn't know it when we started fighting back against PRE's incinerator, But the New England Journal of Medicine had just  published a study of Springfield and 50 other U.S. metropolitan areas in a January 2009,  “Fine-Particulate Air Pollution and Life Expectancy in the United States”.    There was a correlation between higher levels of particulate air pollution and decreases in life expectancy.  The authors concluded “A reduction in exposure to ambient fine-particulate air pollution contributed to significant and measurable improvements in the life expectancy in the United States.”  

 So the truth is known; industry doesn't care; and state governments are still jumping on the biomass bandwagon even though the ride is getting bumpy.

Some small part of me wants to thank Palmer Renewable Energy for giving this community the opportunity to learn about one of the biggest, preventable threats to our well-being-- air pollution.  Yeah, thanks for the opportunity but no thanks to the plant.  Stop Toxic Incineration in Springfield is waiting for the 2011 city council to take action and revoke the permit for Palmer Renewable Energy to build in our city.  By now, the councilors have certainly heard the voice of the community.  Will they heed us?

Go here if you want to realtime picture of pollution as to spreads over New England.

Photo from Alan Slimak's photostream at Flickr.


Matt S. said...

I don't know how much you know about this beyond the health effects, but there could be a lot. Email me when you can.

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minimam said...

Hope you are well. Haven't seen anything in your blog lately
minimam - met you at Steve Donohues service in Springfield.