By Angela K. Spivey, University of North Carolina School of Medicine
Suicide rates two and three times the average in North Carolina counties may be linked to releases of hydrogen sulfide and other airborne chemicals from a nearby paper mill and possibly other industrial sites, according to a University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill psychiatrist. The findings of a new study were presented in November to the US Psychiatric and Mental Health Congress.
The study’s lead author is Dr. Richard H. Weisler, adjunct professor of psychiatry at UNC’s School of Medicine, adjunct assistant professor of psychiatry at Duke University Medical Center and volunteer with the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, or BREDL.
“We clearly know there have been increases in suicides during this time period when there were also operational changes at the paper mill,” said Weisler. “The 1997 spike in suicides in Haywood County corresponded to a switch to Bleach Filtrate Recycle in late 1996. Whether there is a connection between the increased suicides and operational changes has yet to be determined.”
The Haywood County mill uses Bleach Filtrate Recycle, or BFR, to help remove chlorine and other toxins from the waste discharged into the Pigeon River. But Weisler and co-authors said they questioned whether or not a cleaner river comes at the cost of dirtier air.
“The burning of chlorinated compounds that BFR potentially entails, as well as a possible increase in plant volume, may have led to increased releases of dioxins and other harmful compounds into the air,” Weisler said. “The switch to BFR, which involves burning of black liquor, may have resulted in an increase in air quality problems.”
“Black liquor” is chemical and wood waste produced when turning wood into paper pulp. Some paper mills, including the Haywood County mill, burn black liquor to produce electricity. The Haywood County mill has reported releases of many chemicals, including more than 93,000 pounds of hydrogen sulfide in 2003. Studies of industries such as asphalt plants, paper mills and sewage treatment plants have shown that exposure to occupational levels of hydrogen sulfide (10 parts per million for a 10-minute ceiling) can result in nervousness, mania, dementia and violence, Weisler said. It is unknown whether levels lower than those to which nearby residents are exposed also would influence brain chemistry. “I think it has to be explored,” Weisler added.
In animal studies, hydrogen sulfide has been shown to be a neurotoxin, altering levels of brain chemicals such as serotonin, norepinephrine, dopamine, aspartate, GABA and glutamate, the authors reported. “We speculate that hydrogen sulfide may serve as a marker for other potentially neurotoxic compounds being released in this mountain valley,” Weisler said.
Other chemical releases reported by the paper mill include carbon disulfide, dimethyl disulfide, dimethyl sulfide and methyl mercaptan.
“We hope there will be relevant and sensitive air monitoring, as well as a whole reassessment of whether or not burning the black liquor and using Bleach Filtrate Recycle is really the best approach to clean up the Pigeon River,” Weisler said.
— University of North Carolina School of Medicine News Release, November 2005
Recently, despite protest from the We Wai Kai First Nation ( Cape Mudge) over the lack of consultation and health impacts of the mill, and technical objections from Reach for Unbleached! and the Sierra Club Quadra Group, the BC government approved a permit allowing the Catalyst Paper Elk Falls mill in Campbell River to burn coal indefinitely. The We Wai Kai filed an appeal of the permit on Nov. 30 2005.
The Sierra Club of Canada, Quadra Island Group notes that the Ministry of Environment constantly refers to emissions from Elk Falls as meeting or being below provincial standards for various pollutants. However, these standards are defined by measurements such as mg/m3 (milligrams per cubic meter) and do not address total emissions. This allows large mills such as Elk Falls to emit tonnes of pollutants per year and still be technically within the standards.
The Ministry of Environment has directed Elk Falls to address other fuel sources to the boiler that can significantly reduce emissions. They are required to investigate options for reducing the salt content in the wood waste used as fuel in #5 power boiler. They also have to investigate ways to discontinue using effluent treatment plant sludge in #5 boiler.
“This sounds good but the Ministry will have to insist on some action otherwise it will be investigated, found to be unaffordable and pollution will go on as usual” said clean air advocate Joan Sell of Sierra Quadra. “We will be following progress on this closely.”
—Sierra Quadra Press Release, November 2005
Over the last two years, the BC Ministry of Environment has been re-writing the air permit for the Crofton mill. The current permit effectively regulates only two substances — Total Reduced Sulphur Compounds (TRS) and Particulate Matter.
The draft permit makes it clear that the provincial government is taking no steps to further regulate mill emissions. Instead the proposed permit increases the allowable discharge of emissions for the mill and limits only the same two substances. While limits for particulate matter have been lowered to reflect updated equipment, there are no lower concentrations for TRS and some limits in the current permit have disappeared altogether.
· As with the current permit, there is no characterization of emissions from bleach/chemical plants “Discharges are typical emissions from the bleaching of pulp and manufacture of bleaching chemicals.”
· The disposal of sludge by incineration in the power boilers is an inappropriate disposal method and increases toxic air emissions. The proposed permit unconditionally permits sludge incineration.
· The acceptable fuels in the power boilers should be strictly defined, including the salt content in salty hog fuel, the removal of sludge as fuel and a strict definition of wood waste. The proposed permit includes only a definition of wood waste.
The Concerned Citizens of the Crofton Airshed are demanding:
- A thorough review of mill operations resulting in an assessment report to be completed as soon as possible and distributed to stakeholders for information
- Agency referrals and public notice as set out in the ministry’s own guidelines
- Public meetings held to gather input on this proposal subsequent to the report completion.
—CACG (Crofton Airshed Citizens Group) News Release, November 2005 www.croftonair.org
The Port Alice specialty sulphite mill appears to be headed for a government bailout, whereby Swiss Charleston Investments would purchase the mill for a $1 and invest up to $103 million to get the mill running again. In return, the BC government, a champion of free enterprise, would accept financial responsibility for the toxic contamination at the site (likely to be very considerable), guarantee a source of logs at low or no stumpage, and keep the terms of the agreement confidential. Implications for First Nations, whose traditional territories are impacted at every stage, are unknown.
In October the Newfoundland government agreed to a $10 million annual bail out for an Abitibi mill in Stephenville Nfld.
—Globe & Mail, Canadian Press,
October and November 2005
The Catalyst mill in Powell River BC has applied to add a block of land to its unique “Section 21” status. The Powell River mill benefits from a most unusual clause in the town incorporation act which makes it illegal for the town to impact the mill’s economic well-being through the use of tools such as zoning. The mill says it needs the exemption applied to more land so it can expand its landfill and save a million dollars. It is currently shipping its dioxin-contaminated ash to a landfill in Washington State. Dave Harris, a resident of the Wildwood area next to the mill, fears that the application is the first stage toward the mill burning Powell River garbage in its top-of-the-line number 19 power boiler. The town currently ships its garbage to Vancouver Island for disposal.
— Powell River Peak, November 2005
Companies in British Columbia emitted more than 286 million kilograms of air pollution in 2003, most of it associated with respiratory illnesses such as asthma and bronchitis, says a pollution overview released in October by Environmental Defence and the Canadian Environmental Law Association.
Eight of the top 12 Dirty Dozen British Columbia Air Polluters are in the pulp and paper sector. Combined air pollution includes releases of toxic pollutants, such as mercury and lead, and releases of Criteria Air Contaminants, responsible for smog and acid rain.
The analysis, completed using the newly-updated web site www.PollutionWatch.org , is based on data submitted by companies to Environment Canada for its national reporting program – the National Pollutant Release Inventory (NPRI). The 2003 data are the most recently available.
Nationally, for core pollutants only, total releases and transfers increased by 59% between 1995 and 2003 (from 198,038,625 kilograms in 1995 to 314,364,435 kilograms in 2003) and air releases increased by 13% (from 92,187,422 kilograms in 1995 to 104,584,666 kilograms in 2003). For core pollutants and core facilities that have reported consistently between 1995 and 2003, total releases and transfers increased by 12% (from 165,126,949 kilograms in 1995 to 185,426,603 kilograms in 2003).
The PollutionWatch British Columbia fact sheet is available on the PollutionWatch web site atwww.PollutionWatch.org
In early October NorskeCanada changed its name to Catalyst Papers, reflecting the brand of its catalogue papers. Catalyst produces mechanical printing papers as well as market pulp, with an annual capacity of 2.5 million tonnes. The company has five mills employing 3,800 people on the south coast of British Columbia.
The name change, however, didn’t change the Norske strategy of driving down the taxes the company pays in the communities where its mills are located, as a way to save shareholders’ profit. That strategy is apparently approved by the BC provincial government. In September, Premier Gordon Campbell sent Island mayors with Norske mills in their municipalities a letter calling for lower taxes for heavy industry, also known as removing economic growth barriers: “the province has a critical interest in building a competitive economic climate conducive to greater industrial development.” Roger Mc Donell, running for mayor in Campbell River, suggested that the taxes should be cut in half in return for a decrease in pollution from the mill.
The mayors of North Cowichan and Campbell River appeared on the surface to be unimpressed by the letter, although both towns are already shifting the tax burden to residences. Catalyst’s Don McKendrick played the hitman to the hilt, saying that the $8 million a year Catalyst pays in taxes to each municipality would be $4 million in other parts of the province. In 2003 Powell River agreed to cut the same company’s taxes by a million dollars over five years.
Meanwhile, playing out the same strategy in Brazil, Norske Skogindustrier ASA, which is set to become the world’s largest maker of newsprint, said they were delaying building a second paper machine at a Brazilian plant as they wait for tax changes: “…We have had to postpone the investment decision due to the tax changes which haven’t been carried out.’’
—The Duncan Pictorial, Campbell River Mirror, Bloomberg, October 2005
International Paper is persisting with its plans to burn up to 72 tonnes of tires a day in its Ticonderoga, New York mill, saving about $3.8 million US. Opponents, from physicians to organic farmers, and including the governor of Vermont, which is downwind, claim the “test” burn will increase airborne toxics. At a minimum they want the mill to install an $8 million electrostatic precipitator and test for very fine particulate matter (PM 2.5). Although IP has precipitators at its other mills in the US where it burns tires, it says it will only install the equipment in New York if the “test burn” reveals that it is needed.
— New York Times, November 2005
A longstanding battle continues to rage as Argentinean residents and their politicians protest plans for two giant chlorine dioxide bleaching pulp mills across the river in neighboring Uruguay. Uruguay has granted free trade zone status to one of the mills, upon acceptance of its environmental permit.
Argentina is trying to stop the World Bank from loaning hundreds of millions of dollars to giant pulp company Mets-Botnia and to the Spanish firm Ence for the new mills which will produce 1.5 million tons of bleached eucalyptus pulp. Amid protest marches and hard feelings about the conflict between potential jobs versus pollution, the governor of the bordering Argentinean town has threatened to cut off Uruguay’s access to natural gas. A letter to the World Bank published on the World Rainforest Movement website outlines a wide range of concerns from inadequate environmental assessment to the tripling expansion of eucalyptus plantations to supply the mills ( http://www.wrm.org.uy/actors/WB/Letter_Uruguay.html) (link expired). Argentina already has about a dozen small dirty mills in operation.
InterPress Agency reports: “Although the plants in Argentina are not equipped with the cleaner technologies developed in recent years, up until now they have only been targeted by sporadic, isolated complaints from environmental groups. The local residents affected by the pollution have remained silent, either out of a lack of awareness or the fear of losing a source of employment.” Now activists in Argentina are also targeting those mills to go totally chlorine free.
— Miami Herald, InterPress Service, October 2005
May 2005 Special Report Download as pdf (456 kb)
“We are disturbed by what we perceive to be the company’s ongoing attempts to conceal and downplay the impact of toxic pollutants coming from its Crofton pulp mill,” said Michael Ableman of the Crofton Airshed Citizens Group (CACG). “Citizens are unknowingly participating in a giant public health experiment, thanks to the mill and our provincial government.”
Ableman was speaking at a sombre public meeting on the eve of Earth Day in Crofton BC, the site of the controversial Norske Canada Crofton kraft mill. At the meeting, the CACG released a damning 122-page report prepared by RWDI AIR Inc. of Vancouver and Pioneer Technologies Corp. of Olympia WA. The report, commissioned by Reach for Unbleached! with proceeds from the Clean Air Concert held last fall, critiques an earlier air emissions study by Norske Canada consultant Jacques Whitford (JW), which essentially gave the Crofton pulp mill a clean bill of health.
RWDI formed an international peer review team to look at the JW report, and found it to be lacking in clarity, key baseline information, and credibility: “The Report does not constitute a Baseline Human Health Risk Assessment…”
Using neutral language, the citizens’ consultants carefully explained that the mill study amounted to a snow job, with the devil in the details. The most serious criticism was that the Norkse JW study lacked “transparency” so that, even with access to the confidential input data, gained through a controversial Non-Disclosure Agreement with the company, the RWDI consultants could not figure out how the study was conducted. Citizens would be even more hapless.
In the fall of 2003 the Crofton pulp mill on Vancouver Island, owned by Norske Canada, applied for a permit to burn coal, railway ties and tires in its aging power boiler. Taking alarm, in January 2004 the Crofton Airshed Citizens’ Group organized a public meeting in Crofton, with BC Ministry of Water Land and Air Protection staff, mill officials, Reach for Unbleached! and some independent experts, including a doctor and a US air pollution regulator.
The meeting was attended by over 500 people, and it became clear that the citizens of the area required more information. The mill responded by forming a Community Advisory Forum, and funding an air emissions health risk study done by consultants Jacques Whitford, as well as a peer review by another consulting firm, Senes. The mill’s study found some minor problems, but gave the airshed overall a clean bill of health.
In the meantime, the Clean Air Concert in Duncan BC in September, with Randy and Tal Bachman, Neil Young, and the Barenaked Ladies, generated funds for the Crofton Airshed Citizens Group and Reach for Unbleached!, a registered charity, to do their own research. This was a first in North America.
Independent Peer Review
The first stage of this research is an independent peer review of the mill’s study, carried out by RWDI Consulting Engineers and scientists, and Pioneer Technologies from Seattle. The RWDI report identified several major deficiencies with the JW study. Lack of transparency in terms of the sources of the data, the assumptions made and the presentation of the results was cited as a major difficulty in reviewing the work and stressed by the consultants as unacceptable by risk assessment standards.
The CACG consultants did not have access to the mill or any operating details other than those provided by Norske for the original study, and were restricted by the terms of a Non-Disclosure Agreement with the company. (Although normal in Canada, the consultants claimed such agreements were unprecedented in the US or Europe.) However, even with these limitations, RWDI identified several areas where the emissions inventory was likely understated, and certainly unreliable. The deficiencies of greatest concern relate to the emission inventory, dispersion modelling methodology and human health risk assessment.
• Average annual emission rates were used in the Crofton Mill Emission Inventory. Peak 1-hour emission rates should have been used to determine maximum short-term (24-hour or less) ground-level concentrations and resulting acute health impacts.
• Emissions during start up, shut down or during low efficiency operation were not considered. As a result, emissions and associated risks may have been significantly underestimated.
• Emissions from vehicles and vessels associated with the mill were omitted, although likely to be significant for human health because emitted at ground level.
• A number of contaminants were not included even though standard emission factors are available for at least some of the processes. No explanation is provided for not including these contaminants. This may have resulted in an underestimation of emissions and associated risk.
• The Crofton emission inventory does not include criteria air contaminant emissions for the operation of the power boilers using bunker C oil and natural gas.
• Perhaps most tellingly, on the computer model the mill study arbitrarily set the “mixing zone” ceiling, below which pollutants can be trapped, at 20 metres, while some of the stacks rise above that height so their ground level impacts are excluded!
Dispersion modelling for the air emissions
RWDI agreed with the basic methodology used in the JW study to model the dispersion of the air emissions from the mill, but had a few serious caveats:
• Omission of surface observation of winds at the Crofton Mill site, which result in a significant distortion in wind direction during stable (inversion-potential) weather patterns.
• Land use (which affects wind behaviour), particularly in the region immediately surrounding the Crofton Mill was improperly characterized.
• Receptor spacing at which pollution is calculated immediately beyond the fenceline is too sparse at 250 metres instead of a standard 50 metres, and
• Background sources should have been included in modelling, or else predicted model concentrations should have included some estimate of background contributions.
Health Risk Assessment
Problems with the JW study’s health risk approach result in unreliability of the estimation of the human health risks associated with exposure to emissions from the Crofton Mill, according to Pioneer Technologies Corporation of Seattle, retained by the air modeling scientists at RWDI to look at the human health risk assessment.
These deficiencies include:
• The JW Report does not constitute a Baseline Human Health Risk Assessment because it does not evaluate all complete exposure pathways or sensitive subpopulations. The JW Report only evaluates the inhalation pathway for adults. Indirect exposure pathways (e.g., ingestion, dermal) and sensitive sub-populations like children should be evaluated.
• The JW Report only considers/calculates the risks/hazards associated with individual substances. Cumulative risks/hazards should have been calculated and presented. Risk is therefore greatly underestimated.
• The Toxicity Assessment should explicitly identify and summarize toxicological criteria for each substance. In addition, it is important to consider whether or not the criteria have been updated to reflect more recent scientific information. For example the British Columbia ambient air quality objectives were developed in the 1980s and it is not clear if they have ever been updated and if not, whether new science should be considered when applying the values.
PIONEER performed a Screening Level Risk Evaluation (SLRE) of the airborne concentrations presented in the JW study, using only the mill’s estimates of airborne concentrations but incorporating up-to-date toxicity information available from the US Environmental Protection Agency. Each of the airborne concentrations were used “as-is” to calculate Hazard Quotients (HQs) and Cancer Risks (CRs) for an adult resident exposed via inhalation of air only. The individual HQs and CRs were summed to calculate the cumulative Hazard Index (HI) and cumulative CRs for each receptor (i.e., fenceline, gridded, and special receptor).
Pioneer found what would normally be considered unacceptable health risks (in other jurisdictions than British Columbia) for both cancer and chronic and subchronic health hazards at most of the area covered by the study, including near the mill, where trailers and apartments are located.
For cancer, Pioneer calculated risks of between one in a million and one in ten thousand for those living around the mill for 30 years. This is a small number, but it is important to note that EPA guidance documents consider that any cancer risk of over one in a million, calculated using this methodology, indicates a problem with the site. Generally, notes Pioneer, “as risks increase above 1 chance in 1,000,000, they become less desirable. The risk to individuals generally should not exceed 1 in 10,000 (i.e., 1E-04).” (1 -4)
Acetaldehyde, arsenic, carbon tetrachloride, chloroform, chromium VI, dioxin/furans, formaldehyde, tetrachloroethylene, and trichloroethylene were responsible for the majority of the carcinogenic risks.
All of the chronic and subchronic Hazard Index ratings for all locations calculated exceeded 1, which, says Pioneer, “indicates that noncancer health effects may be manifested,” although they were unable to be precise about actual risks or effects. The pollutants responsible for the potential chronic health risks were acetaldehyde, acrolein, chlorine, chlorine dioxide, hydrochloric acid, hydrogen sulphide, oxides of nitrogen, particulate (PM10), and sulphur dioxide. Ammonia and hydrogen sulphide were responsible for the majority of the subchronic health hazard potentials.
All of the above begs several questions:
How often are unacceptable studies foisted on innocent communities who do not have the funds to send the work to other experts for review?
How often, when citizens themselves are able to pick out problems with corporate studies, are they ignored because they are not experts?
Where are the government science and pollution experts whose job it is to deal with major industrial pollution?
Why can communities not rely on federal or provincial government scientists and bureaucrats to step in to set the facts straight when studies with major distortions are released to the public?
And why, if the government experts do NOT recognize the issues at stake in this kind of study because they do not have a high enough level of expertise, are we the taxpayers not DEMANDING that more experts be put on the public payroll?
All the bake sales in Canada could not raise enough money to do the work we need the government to do on our behalf.
The Crofton baseline study on air quality and community health impacts done by Jacques Whitford and the Senes peer review of that study, the full RWDI report, and an executive summary, are available at http://www.croftonair.org. The RWDI study is in the Library.
Kimberly-Clark is the largest manufacturer of tissue products, the Kleenex brand, in the world. Kimberly-Clark produces 3.7 million tonnes of tissue products annually (to a value of approximately US$14.3 billion) and sells these in 150 countries worldwide. In North America, less than 19% of the pulp that Kimberly-Clark uses for its disposable tissue products comes from recycled sources.
Kimberly-Clark has, for decades, used fibre from ancient forests, or forests that are not sustainably managed, to manufacture products that are used once then flushed down the toilet or thrown into the garbage. Many of these forests are clear-cut logged.
Alternatives exist. In fact, ancient forest-friendly tissue products are already being sold in stores across North America. Tissue products containing high amounts of recycled and FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) eco-certified fibres are of similar quality and price to virgin fibre products. For example, Cascades, a Canadian company, and the second largest manufacturer of tissue in Canada, recently committed to making all their tissue products ancient forest friendly by 2007.
Did you know that if each household in Canada replaced one box of virgin fibre facial tissue with a box of tissue made from 100 per cent recycled fibre, we would save 11,654 trees? By making this change, we can positively impact the lives of our children and our children’s children.
For more information about Kimberly-Clark and ancient forests, please visit www.kleercut.net
What You Can Do: Please contact Kimberly-Clark and tell them that you will only purchase products manufactured with ancient forest friendly fibres. Ask them to maximize their use of post-consumer recycled (and process chlorine-free!) content in all their products. To meet their virgin fibre requirements, ask them to use only FSC eco-certified fibres:
Mr. Thomas Falk, CEO
351 Phelps Drive
Irving, Texas USA 75038
For a shoppers guide on tissue products visit www.greenpeace.org. Or call Greenpeace at 1-800-320-7183.
Remember to visit www.2020vision.bc.ca for updates and other important issues! 2020 Vision BC is a non-profit society committed to enabling concerned individuals to join others in influencing policy makers, in a spirit of goodwill, to protect our environment and enhance peace.
That brand new pulp mill which was suspected of causing the death of Chilean swans (Chilean MillWatch, January 2005) (link expired) was ordered closed in late January. The Regional Environmental Commission ruled that the plant, owned by Celulosa Arauco y Constitución (Celco), had violated several environmental regulations, including discharging water at illegally high temperatures and secretly installing a waste duct. The plant was also found to be exceeding permitted production: the projected figure for annual production is 850,000 tons, 55 percent over the 550,000 tons limit.
Four thousand of six thousand black swans are now dead. In the nearby town of Valdivia, 100 people have been hospitalized with symptoms of poisoning. Greenpeace Chile said the action was too little too late, and called for eco-friendly, chlorine free pulping technology.
—Santiago Times, January 2005
In February, the University of Victoria Student Society unanimously adopted a motion to switch all 8.5×11 paper used in the Student Union Building, including ZAP copy, to ethically-produced 100% post consumer paper!
Global Markets And Local Pollution
NorskeCanada Crofton’s power boiler developed a crack in the exhaust stack in late December. The Cowichan News Leader on Vancouver Island reported that an employee noticed the stack was swaying in the wind more it was designed to do, due to a crack that went about 120 degrees around the stack. The company said no extra emissions came out, and the stack has been braced, allowing the mill to operate as usual.
—Cowichan News Leader, December 2004
Locals in Valdivia Chile are blaming a new local pulp mill for the death of thousands of black-necked swans in a nearby sanctuary. Scientists say the birds may be starving since a massive die-off of their prime source of food, a Brazilian waterweed known locally as luchecillo. But townspeople believe the culprit is the $1.2 billion Arauco pulp mill, which began operating in February upriver from the wetland sanctuary. The birds are not an endangered species, but their death is a national embarrassment and a flashpoint for concern about the mill and its use of resources.
— Reuters, January 2005
The Office Depot is working with NorskeCanada and Price WaterhouseCooper to develop an “independent chain of custody tracking system” for its North American marketing papers. For Office Depot to consider paper as environmentally preferable, it must contain post-consumer waste (PCW) recycled content or certified content, containing fibre from forests that are verified as responsibly managed by a “recognized forest certification standard.”,
—Office Depot, November 2004
In November, Greenpeace and Natural Resources Defense Council launched a campaign targeting Kimberly-Clark as the world’s largest manfacturer of tissue products such as Kleenex, complete with a spoof website at www.kleercut.net. The campaign is aimed at getting the company to use significantly more post- consumer recycled paper or agricultural residues in its products and give up its primary role in destroying Canada’s boreal forest.
—Greenpeace, November 2004