COLUMBUS COUNTY, NC (WECT) - About 350 community members, environmental regulators, advocates, and company leaders attended a second public hearing Tuesday about a permit application that would allow a log treatment operation in Delco to release up to 140 tons of a potentially toxic gas into the atmosphere.
The Department of Environmental Quality hosted a question and answer information session followed by public comments at East Columbus High School in Lake Waccamaw. State leaders moved the session to this larger venue to accommodate the expected large turnout and around 350 people showed up.
Malec Brothers Transport LLC is the company applying to use methyl bromide to treat logs to kill pests before the logs are shipped as exports. People who live near the log treatment site asked state regulators to deny Malec Brothers' request to use methyl bromide.
"This is my 10-year-old daughter. We live a half a mile away," said a father as he gestured toward his daughter. "If this was your daughter, would you approve this permit? Yes or no?"
Company representatives, some of whom stood in the back of the room at Tuesday's meeting, were not available for an interview, but sent a statement to WECT News.
"We would want the people to know the methods we use are tried, tested and safe," Malec Brothers Chief Operating Officer James Harris said. "There are three sites in the city of Wilmington already using the same methods for methyl bromide fumigation in built up suburban areas. What we are looking to complete are tried, tested and safe under controlled measures. We will aim to be there for the information session although may be running late due to prior business commitments."
DEQ leaders said their team performed computer simulations with meteorological data and determined the methyl bromide gas would not travel up and over the boundary of the fumigation site to avoid detection by chemical monitors.
State air quality leaders say there are about six fumigation operations using methyl bromide in the state, but the Malec Brothers site would use up to 140 tons of the chemical every year, which is more than the other sites.
DEQ says there is no timeline for when approving or denying the permit. Their next step is to process the community feedback received at the public hearing, which was overwhelmingly opposed to the methyl bromide permit.
One concerned citizen didn't mince words when discussing what residents might do if the company gets the permit.
"If you have any consideration of approving this, we will see you in court even before the ink dries," the citizen said. "We are just getting started."
Frank Williams, chairman of the Brunswick County Board of Commissioners, "strongly encourages" the company to seek an alternate to methyl bromide.
Dr. Robert Parr, a retired emergency medicine physician and air quality advocate, is concerned about the chemical's impact on kids.
"Children are highly sensitive to this chemical, and they're going to be spending a lot of time outside. With this particular site, they're probably about six-tenths of a mile from a football field at Acme-Delco Middle School," said Parr. "There have been numerous studies in California where children who live in close proximity to fumigation sites have shown delayed neurological development."
Parr said the company should recapture the compound instead of releasing it into the atmosphere.
"A modern company does not release this toxin into the air. A modern company recaptures it, and then they neutralize it," said Parr. "That's what's used in New Zealand, that's what used in California, that's what's used in Texas, and this is totally inadequate. I'm really disturbed as a citizen of North Carolina."
Malec Brothers is primarily based in Australia. Company executives previously told WECT that crews have used methyl bromide there for 21 years without any issues.
Dr. Gabriel Da Silva, an engineering professor at the University of Melbourne in Australia, wrote a blog post last week voicing his concerns about the methyl bromide operation in Delco.
"There are alternatives to methyl bromide fumigation, and under the Montreal Protocol, its use worldwide is declining," Da Silva wrote. "The European Union, for instance, have managed to successfully phase out methyl bromide fumigation completely. It is also possible to re-capture methyl bromide following fumigation, significantly reducing emissions. Hopefully, we continue to see these practices adopted globally, including in Australia and North Carolina."