State issues stricter rules for toxic gas methyl bromide, putting company's permit on hold

NORTH CAROLINA (WECT) - On Thursday, state environmental regulators announced stricter rules for using the toxic gas methyl bromide, soon requiring all sites in North Carolina to capture and control at least 90% of the emissions.

Malec Brothers Transport LLC, an Australian-based company with a site in Delco, now has its permit on hold.

The Division of Air Quality (DAQ) within the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) issued their tighter guidelines on Thursday, eight months after Malec Brothers sent in an application.

"DAQ's research shows feasible capture and control technologies exist and should be included in all permit applications," according to a press release.

The company wanted to use up to 140 tons of methyl bromide per year to treat logs for bugs, and then release all the gas into the air -- less than a mile from a middle school.

"DAQ will recommend the Environmental Management Commission develop a rule to require log fumigation operations to take appropriate measures to safeguard public health," according to the press release. "DAQ will also ask the Secretaries' Scientific Advisory Board to consider the need to establish an Acceptable Ambient Level for methyl bromide and to designate it as a state Toxic Air Pollutant."

Methyl bromide has been linked to lung damage, brain damage, nasal cavity lesions and damage to the ozone layer, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

"As proposed, the Malec Brothers Transport facility would be the largest methyl bromide log fumigation site in the state," DAQ wrote in the press release. "DAQ has directed Malec Brothers Transport to provide more information on additional monitoring and safety measures. Specifically, they must provide a plan for capture and control technology and operation limits to safeguard public health."

James Harris, CEO of Malec Brothers U.S. Operations, was reached by phone on Thursday afternoon for comment. He said he has seen the state's decision to act on methyl bromide, but is still understanding how it will impact the company.

"In the interim, we have installed a new debarking system in our facility," Harris said via text message.

Debarking of logs is one technique to reduce the chances that insects or moisture will ruin the wood before export.

Five existing companies that use methyl bromide for fumigation have been given 60 days notice before their permits will be modified to fit the stricter environmental guidelines.

If Malec Brothers resubmits its permit to fit the chemical capture standards, the state will evaluate before deciding whether to hold another public hearing, said a DAQ spokesperson.

Malec Brothers Transport LLC applied for the state air permit back in November 2017.

In the original permit, Malec Brothers would have released all the methyl gas straight up into the atmosphere at low concentrations, using a fan to blow it upwards.

Logs are treated in large shipping containers, filled with methyl bromide gas for hours to kill bugs and pests living in the wood.

Thursday's decision comes after more than a thousand public comments to DAQ, two passion-fueled public hearings, a petition garnering hundreds of signatures to deny the permit, and conversations between the company and state regulators.

Over the last three months, executives with Malec Brothers insisted their use of the chemical methyl bromide would be safe, citing years of use in Australia.

Initially, David Smith, a Malec Brothers executive, said they decided to use methyl bromide because there wasn't an alternative chemical that was "effective and efficient." Smith also said technology to stop the gas from being released into the air was not feasible.

Later, Smith said the company was looking into technology to stop the gas from being released into the air after treating logs.

"As more businesses seek to use methyl bromide at log fumigation sites in our state, the lack of specific federal or state regulatory measures for the use of this hazardous air pollutant creates a potential public health risk we must address," said Mike Abraczinskas, DAQ Director.

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