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Doctor: Emissions not factor in asthma rates

By Staff
Official says 2003 report is too general
By DAN PARSONS
Staff Writer
Chemical emissions from the former Weyerhaeuser paper mill in Plymouth were measured in 2003 at rates exceeding state and federal standards, according to a report given Monday at a meeting of the Plymouth Town Council.
Interim Town Manager Sam Styons advised the council and public that the mill had been classified an “indeterminate public health hazard” by state officials in 2003.
The doctor who initiated air monitoring at the plant said Thursday that subsequent “fine-tuned” air sampling being conducted by the N.C. Division of Air Quality should lift any health threat associated with mill emissions.
Those fine-tuned readings, according to Williams, indicate the emission levels are not linked to a rise in asthma rates among children who lived near the paper mill.
However, the 2003 report makes a connection between the elevated chemical levels and an increased rate of asthma in children under 14 who lived within 25 miles of the mill — an area including all of Washington County and parts of Beaufort, Martin, Bertie and Chowan counties. Sulfur dioxide and hydrogen sulfide have been shown to irritate or inflame asthmatic symptoms, Williams said.
The report states that “asthma hospitalization rates for children 0-14 years in four out of the five counties within the 25-mile impact radius are higher than the state asthma hospitalization rate.”
Williams said the preliminary sampling methods used to draft the 2003 report were not designed to specifically measure for the two chemicals, which may have resulted in other, nontoxic substances registering as either hydrogen sulfide or sulfur dioxide. The report classified the paper mill as an “indeterminate public health hazard.”
Based on that report, Williams said, the Division of Air Quality began continuous monitoring for hydrogen sulfide and sulfur dioxide at the mill. The more-sensitive monitoring effort will be completed in December, and so far the news is “really good,” she said.
During continuous air sampling by the Division of Water Quality from December 2006 through May 2007, the maximum level of sulfur dioxide measured during a 24-hour period was eight parts per billion, far less than the recommended EPA level of 140 parts per billion. During the same period, the 24-hour maximum level of hydrogen sulfide was measured at three parts per billion while the EPA allows a maximum of 83 parts per billion.
With those results, Williams said, there is no significant health risks associated with the levels of chemical emissions at the mill.