Thursday, July 25, 2024

SELC, New Hanover ask for strongest methyl bromide fumigation rules proposed

Methyl bromide is used to kill insects and pests present in logs before being exported to foreign markets. (Port City Daily/File photo)
Methyl bromide is used to kill insects and pests present in logs before being exported to foreign markets. (Port City Daily/File photo)

NEW HANOVER COUNTY — Both the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners and Southern Environmental Law Center have asked the state’s environmental rule-making body to consider the strongest methyl bromide fumigation regulations proposed.

There are five methyl bromide permits issued in North Carolina, four of which actively operate, with two located in New Hanover County.

Related: Over 100,000 New Hanover residents potentially over-exposed to fumigation chemical, DEQ accepting comments on new regulations

Methyl bromide is a developmental, neurological, and respiratory toxicant known to cause both acute and chronic human health effects. A Division of Air Quality report this year estimates approximately 152,000 people living in New Hanover County may already be over-exposed to the gas, having exceeded federal chronic exposure recommendations.

The Division of Air Quality and the Science Advisory Board endorse the adoption of an Acceptable Ambient Level (AAL) for methyl bromide emissions at .005 milligrams per cubic meter. However, the board empowered to adopt environmental rules introduced a range of emissions 15 times higher than this recommended amount.

A public comment period on proposed rule changes opened June 17, was extended Aug. 15, and closes Aug. 30.

Currently, toxic methyl bromide fumes can be released into the air by permitholders without any regulatory oversight or emission-control measures. The only existing limitation that applies to methyl bromide fumigators is a requirement that emissions do not exceed 10 tons per year.

SELC weighs in

In a letter to the Division’s director, the Southern Environmental Law Center, on behalf of the North Carolina Conservation Network, Clean Air Carolina, North Carolina Environmental Justice Network, North Carolina Sierra Club, asked for the proposed .005 milligram per cubic meter (mg/m3) rule to be adopted.

“Despite the ‘professional judgment of [the Division’s] Environmental Toxicologist and input and feedback from the [Science Advisory Board’ indicating that a methyl bromide AAL should be set no higher than .005 in order to protect the general public, the [Environmental Management Commission] has requested comments on setting the AAL as high as .078 mg/m3 —over 15 times higher than the level identified by experts as necessary to protect public health” SELC’s letter states.

In May, EMC commissioners voiced concerns that the suggested .005 mg/m3 level was “too low,” according to the SELC. Empowered to set environmental regulations, the EMC opened a public comment period to review proposed methyl bromide emissions at levels between .005 and .078 mg/m3.

The EMC cites a draft report by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry in 2018 as a basis for the higher level. However, the SELC’s letter describes this suggested level as non-applicable to the proposed chronic regulations, as the report’s findings are based on intermediate health levels.

“A methyl bromide AAL of .078—and, in fact, any AAL higher than .005—is not supported by the science to protect the public from the effects of chronic exposure to methyl bromide,” SELC’s letter states.

Also, the SELC asks the EMC to consider a minor edit to proposed rules that could help eliminate ambiguity. As proposed, the definition of “fumigation operation” does not include the possibility of permit-holders applying the substance to bulk piles in the open, which the SELC’s edit proposes to address.

Because methyl bromide is three times heavier than air, according to SELC’s research, its emissions can diffuse rapidly downward and outward from facilities. Recent research cited by SELC shows a direct relationship between the agricultural use of methyl bromide and potential community exposure within a five-mile radius.

“An AAL of any higher than .005 mg/m3 is inconsistent with the professional judgment of the state’s experts, the most recent and scientifically valid research on the health impacts of methyl bromide exposure, and the purpose and goal of the state’s toxic air pollutant regulations and accompanying AALs,” SELC’s letter concludes.

County, public comment

New Hanover County Commissioners approved a letter endorsing the proposed .005 mg/m3 level Aug. 12. In the letter, the county states it fully supports the findings of the Science Advisory Board and the Division’s findings.

Two methyl bromide permit-holders — both operated by Royal Pest Solutions — are located off Burnett Boulevard and River Road. These two operations are emitting estimated levels of methyl bromide fumes in excess of chronic health recommendations, according to the Division of Air Quality.

Minimum and maximum fenceline dispersal levels at the River Road facility are respectively 1,414 times and 4,805 times higher than chronic health guidelines. At the Burnett Road facility, emissions are estimated to be occurring 122 and 885 times higher than chronic toxicity levels, according to a May Divsion of Air Quality fiscal note report.

New Hanover County Commissioners cites both operations as a concern, as they are located near established communities and commercial centers, the letter states.

The EMC opened a public comment period on the proposed changes June 17 which will remain open until Friday. Comments can be:

Catch up on the public notice for the rule changes and read DAQ’s May 2019 fiscal note, April 2019 Risk Analysis fore more information.

Read both New Hanover County Commissioner’s and SELC’s public comment letters below:

Log Fumigation Letter From NHC by Johanna Ferebee on Scribd

SELC comments on methyl bromide fumigation rules by Johanna Ferebee on Scribd

Send tips and comments to Johanna Ferebee at

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