Last minute amendment provides relief to major polluters, and increased cancer risk to the public
Companies seeking legislation released over a half million pounds of cancer-causing chemicals
With no public debate at the end of the session and expected to be voted on by the House, Rep. Pat McElraft today introduced, and the House Committee on the Environment approved, an amendment to SB308 to repeal protections provided to the public by North Carolina’s Air Toxic Regulations. These regulations protect citizens from hazardous, toxic, and cancer-causing air pollution from industrial sources. The bill eliminates health-based air quality standards to protect the air we breathe from certain hazardous and toxic chemicals, many of which cause cancer, mutations and birth defects, and respiratory illness and heart attacks. Among the most vulnerable to harm are senior citizens, pregnant women, and children.
Five of the state’s largest sources of hazardous and toxic pollutants requested that the legislature’s Regulatory Reform committee repeal North Carolina’s Air Toxic Regulations. The companies requesting repeal of the air toxic regulations are Domtar which operates a paper plant in Plymouth, Duke Energy which operates seven coal-fired power plants in western NC, Evergreen Packaging Group which operates a paper plant in Canton, Nucor Corp. which operates a steel plant in Hertford County, and Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan which operates a phosphate facility near Aurora. These five polluters account for over half of the hazardous and toxic chemical released in North Carolina during the Environmental Protection Agency’s most recent inventory in 2009.
According to EPA’s most recent Toxic Release Inventory, these companies collectively released 18,208,283 pounds of hazardous and toxic pollutants in 2009. The companies’ toxic releases in 2009 included over a half million (516,056) pounds of known carcinogens.
The NC Air Toxics Regulations were adopted in 1990 during the administration of Republican Governor James Martin to protect the public from the harmful effects of hazardous and toxic air pollutants. The regulations define “Toxic air pollutant” to “mean any of those carcinogens, chronic toxicants, acute systemic toxicants, or acute irritants listed in Rule .1104 of this section.” The listed pollutants covered by the regulations are the most hazardous to public health, including PCBs; dioxins; asbestos; arsenic; heavy metals such as arsenic, cadmium, hexavalent chromium, mercury, and others; formaldehyde; cyanide and dozens of known carcinogens. The sole purpose of the regulation is to protect people from harmful concentrations of toxic pollution in the air they breathe. The regulation sets a standard to protect public health: a “facility shall not emit any of the [listed] toxic air pollutants in such quantities that may cause or contribute beyond the premises . . . to any significant ambient air concentration that may adversely affect human health.” 15A NCAC 2D.1104.
The current proposal to repeal North Carolina’s ambient health based standard for toxic air pollution presents a clear choice between protecting the public from the adverse health effects of the most hazardous air pollutants known and requiring polluters to limit their toxic emissions to a level required to protect public health. While citizens have little choice on what air they breathe, they have an expectation that it not harm their health.
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The Southern Environmental Law Center is a regional nonprofit using the power of the law to protect the health and environment of the Southeast (Virginia, Tennessee, North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama). Founded in 1986, SELC's team of more than 40 legal and policy experts represent more than 100 partner groups on issues of climate change and energy, air and water quality, forests, the coast and wetlands, transportation, and land use.