Public outcry at methyl bromide hearing, company insists it would be safe

Public outcry at methyl bromide hearing, company insists it would be safe
Updated: May. 3, 2018 at 11:59 PM EDT
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DELCO, NC (WECT) - More than 300 people attended a public hearing in Delco, NC, about a log transport company's application for a state air quality permit to operate methyl bromide fumigation.

The crowd was larger than expected, so the fire marshal forced the session to move to a larger area.

"I absolutely do not support it. We don't want it. We don't need it," said Gary Smith, a resident who has lived in Delco most of his life. "Our children do not need to be exposed to something that's this toxic. Who knows what might happen to them in years to come?"

Malec Brother Transport LLC applied for a state permit back in November with DEQ, and now the state environmental regulators are listening to the public for feedback.

More than 30 members of the public stood at the microphone and shared their concerns about methyl bromide fumigation in Delco.

Issues raised included the potential health impacts, the damage to the ozone layer, and proximity to neighborhoods and a middle school.

"Why would you ask us to breathe these chemicals when the USDA banned them from use in agriculture?" asked one resident.

"Think about the children. Think about the grandchildren," said another resident. "We do not stand by it, and we do not want it."

When two Malec Brothers LLC employees and an executive tried to speak, the crowd heckled them.

In an interview with WECT, David Smith, International Resource Procurement Executive said the company's operation would be safe and beneficial to the economy of Columbus County.

"Fumigation is something we've been doing for many years in Australia with zero incident," said Smith.

Smith drew a parallel to Malec's current log preparation site in Lara/Geelong, VIC, Australia, where methyl bromide has been used for 21 years.

"We're all concerned for our kids and families. I can assure them that even the owner, Matthew Malec and his family, who are here tonight with his kids, they live within one mile of the site down in Lara, within one mile of the most prestigious school in Australia," said Smith.

He explained the site would ventilate the methyl bromide from the shipping container using a 30-foot stack and fan upward into the air.

"Once you ventilate that, it disperses very quickly. It doesn't carry or attach to water or soil," said Smith.

The site would have methyl bromide concentration detectors near the fumigation containers and at the edge of the property, according to Smith.

When asked about methyl bromide's impact on the ozone layer, Smith said he is concerned but said his company's impact would be comparatively low.

"We all want to stamp out things that will impact the ozone layer, but the portion of this in the scheme of the whole world and the industry is such a minute amount," said Smith. "And it would be a real shame for that reason alone we disadvantage Columbus county who is going to benefit so much from our operation."

Once the log fumigation operation is up and running, Smith said about 40 new jobs would come to Delco.

"Let us prove our worth," said Smith. "We are very transparent. We have a good neighbor policy which allows the community who has concerns to come talk to us."

Today, the company has about 450 shipping containers full of cut logs that only need to be fumigated before they are ready for export.

Smith said his company's choice of methyl bromide stemmed from a lack of alternatives.

"To date, there's no alternative that's effective and efficient," said Smith. ""People don't need to fear that it would get out of control."

Several community members who spoke at the meeting said the risks might not be worth the economic benefit.

"No job is worth this," said a citizen.

DEQ said another public hearing is planned after tonight's larger than expected public attendance.

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