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NC Community Finds Power in Social Media to Protect Its Environment

Methyl bromide reduces the spread of invasive pests when logs are exported, but it comes at a cost to the health of residents and the ozone layer. (Anna L Martin/Flickr)
Methyl bromide reduces the spread of invasive pests when logs are exported, but it comes at a cost to the health of residents and the ozone layer. (Anna L Martin/Flickr)
August 14, 2018

DELCO, N.C. – A public outcry has resulted in a potential shift in state regulation of a chemical that many scientists say is a danger to public health and the ozone layer.

Methyl bromide is used in logging operations in North Carolina to fumigate wood before it's exported. Few citizens in the small community of Delco were aware of the use of the chemical or its dangers until they read it on social media after public notices were printed in newspapers an hour outside of town.

Dr. Robert Parr with Medical Advocates for Healthy Air says once they found out, two public hearings were packed with concerned citizens.

"As a result of that, they're moving methyl bromide from an agricultural, poorly regulated chemical to an industrial chemical," he says.

The state Environmental Management Commission will have to approve the change. If it does, the companies will be mandated to limit their release into the atmosphere by 90 percent, in addition to facing stricter monitoring and regulations. The logging industry says the chemical is needed to stay competitive as an exporter in a global market.

The Environmental Protection Agency regulates methyl bromide as a hazardous air pollutant, but the logging industry is exempted.

Rachel McIntosh-Kastrinsky with Clean Air Carolina says there is reason for concern.

"Studies in California have shown that there have been decreases in intelligence for children within five miles of methyl bromide fumigation sites," she says. "Also, studies have shown that within proximity to the site, there have been issues with fetal development."

Parr says the story is proof that community participation in public hearings is vital to giving state regulators the tools they need to protect them and the environment.

"At these public hearings, the regulatory people there, they're refrained from voicing their concerns," Parr notes. "The people actually have power to address the company directly."

If the regulations are approved, North Carolina will become the first state to limit the emissions of methyl bromide.

Stephanie Carson/Shaine Smith, Public News Service - NC