May 27, 2010
Doctors: Biomass may be harmful to health
By VANESSA McCRAY firstname.lastname@example.org
TRAVERSE CITY — A group of local doctors raised concerns about the health impact of a proposed biomass power plant.
The Traverse City Light & Power board in April voted to pursue plans for a wood-burning plant. But area physicians and medical personnel pointed out potentially harmful health effects associated with air pollution from such a plant.
Dr. Laura Shea, a city resident and family medicine physician, said research indicates air pollution has a more adverse effect on health than previously thought. Exposure to particulate matter can harm the heart and lung.
An early May letter to the planning and city commission signed by nearly a dozen local medical professionals asked city commissioners to vote against the Light & Power budget in June "until further specific data regarding emissions is provided and the potential human health and local air quality impact is analyzed." Shea said more physicians since have added their signatures.
Shea urged officials "at a bare minimum" to agree to test ambient air quality for pollutant levels, a step not governmentally mandated because of the area's rural size.
She encouraged: "If they feel they need to move forward on the biomass facility that at least they engage in ongoing regular ambient air quality monitoring in the city to make sure we are not exceeding recommended guidelines."
Mayor Chris Bzdok said the health issues raised by doctors "are compelling and grave." Medical professionals should be among those involved in the ongoing review of biomass, he said.
Many things — cars, barbecue grills and fireplaces — make particulate emissions, Bzdok said, but officials need to know more details before assessing how much, if at all, the concentration of pollution will increase.
"You can, on paper, you could locate this on a site and under conditions that would be very adverse or ... in a site where any increment would be negligible," he said. "If there's a significant impact on public heath for any site, no one's going to agree to site it there."
Particulate matter can impair the lung's defenses and increase inflammation in the airways, said Karen Kain, a pulmonary education specialist and president of the Asthma Coalition of Northwest Michigan.
"We have seen that it's the particulate matter that is the culprit, and we've seen increased use of asthmatic medication in children because with increase particulate matter levels (there is a) decline in respiratory function," Kain said.
Light & Power Executive Director Ed Rice said he does not think the proposed 10-megawatt plant poses legitimate health concerns, but the utility will seek "expert testimony" regarding the impact. It would be a minimum of about four years before a Grand Traverse County plant is operational, he said.
"It's about as clean as we are going to get with any kind of a generating plant," Rice said.
Shea pointed to a recent scientific statement from the American Heart Association regarding particulate matter air pollution and its link to cardiovascular disease. Even short-term exposure "can trigger heart attacks or disease," she said. Shea said a "linear relationship" has been shown to exist between exposure to finer particles and mortality, indicating "there is no safe lower limit in ambient air."
Rice said the intention is for the proposed plant to fall under the Clean Air Act's classification as a "minor source" of emissions. Some of the health questions raised by local doctors cannot be answered until the utility continues its "due diligence process," Bzdok said.
"It needs to be front and center," he said, of health concerns. "It needs to be addressed adequately and comprehensively ... and it will be."
sourcehttp://record-eagle.com/features/x43357 ... -to-health