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Guest column | Marc J. Yacht

Proposed biomass plant is a health threat

A Texas corporation, Florida Power Development, LLC, is applying to build a woody biomass electrical conversion incinerator project in Brooksville, 2.5 miles from the city center. Environmental experts, the American Lung Association, Massachusetts Medical Society, Florida Medical Association, Massachusetts Breast Cancer Coalition, the North Carolina Academy of Family Physicians, and other health-concerned associations and groups have strongly objected to biomass plants and their impact on community health.

Plants of this nature emit unacceptable levels of carbon dioxide, which contributes to climate change and global warming. Such warming has the potential to enhance vector-borne diseases such as malaria. Particulate air pollution is increased through the burning of biomass, exacerbating upper respiratory illness that can be catastrophic for those with chronic lung disease. Many of our elderly and young asthmatics are particularly sensitive to air pollutants generated by such a facility.

Further increased is the release of nitrous oxides, creating ozone, a highly reactive oxidant gas. Ozone in pulmonary airways may result in chest pain, shortness of breath, cough, and wheezing; increased susceptibility to infection, increased asthma attacks, increased asthma medication use, and more visits to emergency rooms for respiratory disease.

The vehicles transporting the biomass to the plant are typically diesel and will add to the pollution index with increased toxic emissions, including carbon dioxides, nitrogen oxides, and diesel particulate matter. Other disadvantages of biomass plants include their competition for combustible materials needed by recycling plants. Recycling and composting plants prove more environmentally friendly in waste reduction strategies.

Incineration is the most toxic technology, converting materials into more noxious gaseous, liquid, and solid forms. Also, such plants tend to be a magnet for waste materials from other areas due to their requirement for combustible high BTU material. These plants tend to be costly to communities, the electricity generated is expensive, and they provide a disincentive to minimizing the production of materials that are too toxic or complex to be cost-effectively or safely recycled.

The Florida Medical Association has passed a resolution supporting the implementation of HB 7135, which requires state government to develop comprehensive programs for resource conservation, resource reuse, recycling and composting for the state of Florida. The association urges state government to adopt policies to minimize the approval and construction of new incinerators including mass-burn, gasification, plasma, pyrolysis, biomass, refuse-derived fuel, and other incinerator technologies.

Current coal use also has raised the ire of environmentalists due to issues with ash and other emission concerns. Clean coal has upped the cost of using this fuel substantially and now, with new federal regulations, costs are escalating. It would make a lot more sense to consider acceptable sources of energy such as wind, solar or natural gas with this opportunity to convert to an environmentally friendly energy source.

That is preferable to a biomass plant, which are unhealthy and specifically dangerous for many of our elderly citizens suffering from pulmonary disease and those suffering from asthma. The location of this plant, understanding the potential health and environmental risk, is simply irresponsible. The application should be denied, for health's sake.

Dr. Marc J. Yacht is the retired director of the Pasco Health Department.

Proposed biomass plant is a health threat 04/14/12 [Last modified: Saturday, April 14, 2012 4:31am]
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