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Clean air agency board gets an earful

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The Olympic Region Clean Air Agency (ORCAA) has a plan for monitoring Clallam air quality, but the plan is largely unpopular.

 

Or it was unpopular with the hundred or so residents of Clallam and Jefferson counties who showed up when the ORCAA board held its regular monthly meeting in Sequim on Monday, Oct. 15.

 

The board knew they were not likely to be welcomed with open arms: they scheduled the meeting in Sequim specifically to hear the concerns of locals regarding biomass boilers that are now being built at the Nippon Paper Industries mill in Port Angeles and at the Port Townsend Paper mill.

 

To many in the crowd, the plan to monitor the air for the resulting pollutants — as well as pollutants from wood stoves, industry and vehicles — was largely beside the point.

 

A half dozen or more called for an immediate moratorium on the construction of the biomass boilers, with one saying she would hold the board personally responsible for the deaths that result. Another said after the boilers are fired up, “birds will fall from the sky.”

 

Margaret Bailey, a nurse from Port Angeles, told the board, “I don’t want it monitored. I want it delayed. We don’t need this. We need better leadership at ORCAA.”

 

One member of the audience was cheered after he told the ORCAA board, “Our expectation of you is that you’ll protect our public health. If it can’t be done with zero effects, it can’t be done.”

Four temps on duty

ORCAA’s plan calls for placing four temporary monitors in Clallam County for one year, with three in Port Angeles and one in Sequim. By studying the data collected by the monitors, the agency would then determine the best locations for more expensive permanent monitors.

 

The study, they said, would include results from both before and after the Port Angeles biomass boiler is fired up.

 

Because the funding for the project is limited, the temporary monitors won’t be as accurate, or as expensive, as the permanent monitors.

 

ORCAA staffers also said they further hope to save money by placing the temporary monitors in public places and using student interns to collect the data.

 

Many in the crowd were concerned that the monitors wouldn’t register the presence of ultrafine particles. Critics of the biomass boilers have regularly stated that these tiny particles are the most dangerous.

 

Bob Lynette, a spokesman for the Sierra Club, told the board he was “glad to see some movement, but I don’t think it’s sufficient.”

 

Lynette noted “the proposed temporary monitors will only measure particles down to 0.3 microns. But the ultrafine particulates that are very damaging to human health are defined as 0.1 microns and smaller. … these smaller ultrafines and the even-smaller nanoparticles, which are greater in number, will not be counted by the proposed temporary monitors.”

 

In response to demands that the new monitors measure the ultrafines, ORCAA Senior Air Monitoring Specialist Odelle Hadley told the audience, “no one in the country monitors for ultrafines, and if we did, there are no standards in place.”

Also in attendance

Sequim Mayor Ken Hays spoke to the crowd, saying he wanted to acknowledge a letter the council sent to ORCAA in June asking the agency the pay for and operate an air quality monitoring station in Sequim.

Hays also referred to a spring presentation to the board by Nippon officials, after which the council canceled a planned May 14 public forum on the Nippon biomass plan.

 

Hays told the Monday night crowd that he hadn’t been convinced by the Nippon officials and in fact had more concerns following the presentation. “It was unclear,” he said.

 

Hays thanked ORCAA representatives for holding their meeting in Sequim, saying that in dealing with the issue the council was “in over our heads.”

 

Clallam County Commissioner Mike Doherty also spoke, saying he knew he knew his comments would be unpopular. But, he added, “in my lifetime the mills have cleaned up.”

 

He added, “There’s a trade-off. The more (slash) they haul out of the woods (to burn) in controlled technology, the better.”

 


Reach Mark Couhig at mcouhig@sequimgazette.com.
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