ASHE COUNTY — Whether a proposed asphalt plant in Glendale Springs poses a grave environmental risk – or no threat at all – might depend on who you ask.
State air quality officials said Appalachian Materials Group, the company planning to build the plant, has complied with all of North Carolina’s clean air permitting rules and regulations and said the proposed plant likely won’t pump hazardous levels of toxins into the air.
That’s according to Jalal Adouli, a permit coordinator and engineer with the state’s Division of Air Quality, and Alex Zarnowski, a meteorologist with the same agency. The pair presented that data at a public hearing hosted by the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources Tuesday evening. That’s news because DENR must give the company its OK to move forward with the project.
Was a firearm involved?
But local environmental activists and community members disputed the state’s findings and said the plant could pose an environmental hazard for miles around. And at least one speaker, Bob Sumner, alleged that no state inspector has visited
the site of the proposed asphalt plant, which is owned by the same group that controls Radford Quarries, in three years.
“These inspectors from Winston-Salem have not been back to the site since September 2012,” Sumner said. “Somebody there, I don’t know who, pulled a gun on them that day and they’ve not been back since.”
Attempts to reach Sumner by text message, and Radford Quarries’ ownership and DENR public relations staff by email,
weren’t immediately returned. The Jefferson Post will update this story accordingly with their responses as they become available.
Two for two
Fifteen community members voiced their thoughts on the project, the second public hearing concerning the proposed plant in as many days. Following a public hearing Monday morning, the Ashe County Board of Commissioners unanimously voted to draft a moratorium ordinance that could halt the plant’s construction before it ever gets underway.
According to Adouli, if the proposed asphalt plant is constructed, it will be monitored and must undergo regular inspections at least once a year to confirm that the site is complying with the permit. Adouli said the facility would be inspected more often if complaints are filed.
Alex Zarnowski, meteorologist with the Division of Air Quality, also spoke of the dispersion modeling analysis he conducted to obtain the emission rates based on the 300,000 tons of asphalt the proposed plant is expected to produce annually. Zarnowski said that none of the plant’s toxins will exceed acceptable levels.
However, Louis Zeller, representative of the Protect Our Fresh Air committee, says that the analysis is fatally flawed.
According to Zeller, air pollutants including benzene, formaldehyde and dioxin coming from the asphalt plant could actually exceed state regulations depending on the height of the smoke stack which is required to be no less than 25.49 feet. The permit also requires the smoke stack to be located at specific coordinates that Zeller believes could impact the environment depending on where those coordinates are located.
“One of the flaws in the permit is the fact that it lists the height of the stack and the latitude and the longitude but it does not indicate its height above sea level,” Zeller said. “This would be an out of control pollution source.”
Prior to the hearing, Zeller stated that there would be a risk for public health over a six-mile radius around the proposed asphalt plant site, extending to Highways 163 and 88
Concerns of heavy fog mixed with the toxins from the plant were also mentioned by speaker Harry Corpening. Corpening presented pictures of the heavy morning fog common in the area and said that emissions from the asphalt plant would remain at ground level once it becomes trapped in the fog.
Speakers also highlighted concerns focused on the Church of the Frescoes, Camp New Hope, and locals with health issues.
Dr. Daniel Darter, medical director for the Appalachian District Health Department, spoke of some of the health issues that fumes of the asphalt plant could cause.
According to Darter, emissions could cause headaches, skin rashes, fatigue, reduced appetite, throat and eye irritation, skin cancer and lung problems.
Darter stated that Ashe County has an age adjusted cancer rate of 1 in 229, a moderate rate of cancer nationwide.
“I’m really worried as a physician about anything that could raise that rate,” Darter said.
According to Darter, isolated studies have reported associations with asphalt exposure and cancers of the brain, liver and digestive organs.
Final decisions on whether the permit will be granted will be made by the director of the Division of Air Quality after Bruce Ingle, compliance supervisor, provides a detailed report of the hearing and his recommendation.
There is no current deadline on when a decision regarding the permit will be made.
Hannah Myers can be reached at 336-846-7164 or on Twitter @cmedia_hmyers.