OCTOBER 28, 2006
Rally – Middlebury, Vermont against International Paper’s Tire Burn
by Jack Mayer, MD, MPH
I want to be perfectly clear. This is not about burning tires. This is about burning tires with obsolete, inadequate pollution controls. Every other plant burning this volume of tire-derived fuel uses an electrostatic precipitator – the standard pollution control device for this fuel. Yet, IP refuses to install one. If IP were built today, they’d have to install an ESP. When IP starts burning tires next week, they will create more pollution in the Chaplain Valley in exchange for a few dollars. This is about the arrogance of one company that doesn’t seem to care about the harm their pollution will cause the citizens of the Champlain Valley – New Yorkers and Vermonters.
I can’t believe we have to be here today to fight for clean air. I can’t believe we are even having this dispute with IP. It’s like arguing about whether women should have the right to vote, or if there should be Child Labor laws. Did we all fall down a rabbit hole and come out the other side in 1969 before there was an EPA, before there was a Clean Air Act?
We were doing so well with environmental progress, until Al Gore was elected president in 2000 and locked out of the White House. Since then the EPA has become the (hold your nose!) EPU and 30 years of progress has been flushed down the toilet and incinerated into the atmosphere. I’m reminded of the Joni Mitchell lyric, “Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.”
So get out your bell bottoms and protest signs, ‘cause “We shall overcome”! IP is not just testing their boiler to see if it will burn tire derived fuel – they’re testing the limits of pollution. They want to know how much more crap can they put in the air and still be just a hair under the EPA’s limit.
They’re also testing the patience and will of Vermonters. IP has decided that you and I, our children, our grandparents, our farm animals, our environmental reputation, the Vermont Seal of Quality are going to be guinea pigs for their experiment. If they’re successful IP will reap windfall profits. We take all the risks and they get all the benefits. What is truly galling is that IP thinks that’s OK. And let’s be clear what those risks are: deaths from stroke and heart attack, asthma attacks where children can’t breathe and worsening of respiratory disease, cancer from carcinogenic pollutants, neurologic damage from toxins that affect the exquisitely sensitive developing brains of babies and children, damage to our reproductive and endocrine systems. How dare IP impose these risks on us without our consent.
Let’s just talk about one of the pollutants that IP won’t be measuring but will be releasing into our air starting on Nov. 6th - fine particulates. These particles are tiny enough to lodge deep in our lungs where they cause inflammation of the lungs, the arteries of the heart and brain. These particulates are composed of the toxins that are released from burning tires, a long a scary list of toxic metals like mercury, arsenic, zinc and chromium and organic compounds.
Kids are different from adults. Their cells are dividing rapidly – their DNA replicating frequently, making it more susceptible to chemical damage from pollutants. This is what I studied at Columbia University School of Public Health as a National Cancer Institute Fellow in Epidemiology. Children’s brains are growing quickly, their normal development, their intelligence, is highly susceptible to these toxins. Adults breathe about 14 – 20 times a minute. Babies breathe 20 – 40 times a minute. Children like to play, which increases their respiratory rate. As you breathe faster you take in more of these fine particulates. During the test burn will your child be running outside, breathing hard and fast during recess or playing lacrosse, basketball or soccer? Should kids be kept indoors for 3 weeks so IP can do a test burn that won’t even measure fine particulate emissions? (Incidentally, fine particulates get indoors as well – and this mask won’t work; you need a moon suit to keep fine particulates out of your lungs.)
What do the EPA’s own scientists say about fine particulates? They’re jumping up and down like the proverbial man with his hair on fire. They are so concerned about the toxic effects of these small particulates that they have urgently petitioned the Bush appointed EPA administrator, Steven Johnson to cut allowable fine particulate emissions in half!! He has acknowledged the science but refuses to lower the annual emissions limit, a failure that the committee estimates will cost 5-10,000 lives a year. The World Health Organization, echoing these concerns, has called for a 2/3 cut in fine particulate exposures in developing countries.
The science is clear – fine particulates are much more hazardous than anyone thought even 10 years ago. Will IP be testing for these toxic fine particulates during the test burn? NO! Do EPA administrators want them to test for fine particulates? NO! The EPA is mandated to set health protecting limits, not profit protecting limits. It’s an outrage.
This is an old public health lesson, one we ignore at our peril – at our children’s peril. Lead poisoning is a good example. During my first year in medical school, in 1967 the allowable blood level of lead in children was 60 ug/dl. Then Dr. Herb Needleman’s research showed how exquisitely sensitive children are to the toxic effects of lead and the allowable level was dropped to 40 ug/dl. More research showed that was still way to high – so it went down to 25 ug/dl. Subsequent research pushed the level down to 10 and finally to 5 ug/dl. The same thing is happening with fine particulates. The science of fine particulate toxicity overwhelmingly proves the exquisite vulnerability of children, people with lung diseases and those at risk of heart attack and stroke to disease and death from fine particulate emissions.
Morton Lippmann, one of the EPA scientists on the Clean Air Science Advisory Committee said of fine particulates, that only cigarette smoking has more impact on public health.
I met with a family in my pediatric office last week. Their first baby is due on Nov. 1st. They wanted to know if they should be concerned and what they could do to protect their newborn from IP’s pollution. It broke my heart. I didn’t know what to say. So I’m left with this question. If you are doing something you know is causing harm and you do it anyway, and you do it to your family, to your employees and their families, to your neighbors and their children – how do you sleep at night? Or is that just the “cost of doing business.” We are all here today to say, “No! You cannot poison the air our children breathe. You cannot throw your garbage on our farm fields. You cannot enroll us as guinea pigs for your foul experiment. IP is preparing the burn; they’re grinding up tire treads. Listen up, IP. Remember what Vermonters said to the British more than 200 years ago? “Don’t tread on us.”
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