As trees rot away, sulfur dioxide fears grow
By RAMIT PLUSHNICK-MASTI
BASTROP, Texas — Along a stretch of Highway 21, in a pastoral, hilly region of Texas, is a vegetative wasteland. Trees are barren, or covered in gray, dying foliage and peeling bark. Fallen, dead limbs litter the ground where pecan growers and ranchers have watched trees die slow, agonizing deaths.
Visible above the horizon is what many plant specialists, environmentalists and scientists believe to be the culprit: the Fayette Power Project — a coal-fired power plant for nearly 30 years has operated mostly without equipment designed to decrease emissions of sulfur dioxide, a component of acid rain.
The plant’s operator and the state’s environmental regulator deny sulfur dioxide pollution is to blame for the swaths of plant devastation across Central Texas. But evidence collected from the Appalachian Mountains to New Mexico indicates sulfur dioxide pollution kills vegetation, especially pecan trees. Pecan growers in Albany, Ga., have received millions of dollars in an out-of-court settlement with a power plant whose sulfur dioxide emissions harmed their orchards.
Now, extensive tree deaths are being reported elsewhere in Texas, home to 19 coal-fired power plants — more than any other state. Four more are in planning stages. In each area where the phenomenon is reported, a coal-fired power plant operates nearby.
see the rest of the article, from Delaware Online…
The government of Alberta, Canada considers new limits on sulphur dioxide pollution
EDMONTON — The Alberta government may adopt new limits for sulphur dioxide emissions, which environmentalists say are much weaker than those recently chosen by the U.S. and recommended by the World Health Organization.
Sulphur dioxide is a common air pollutant that can harm human health and the environment. Brief exposure can cause wheezing, chest tightness and shortness of breath, especially in people with pre-existing conditions such as asthma or lung disease, according to Alberta Environment. Long term exposure can cause respiratory illness or aggravate existing lung or cardiovascular conditions. It also causes acid rain.
In June, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency set its one-hour SO2 health standard at 75 parts per billion (ppb), a level designed to protect against short-term exposures ranging from five minutes to 24 hours. The agency explained it was revoking its current 24-hour and annual SO2 health standards because the science indicates that short-term exposures are of greatest concern and the existing standards would not provide additional health benefits.
The World Health Organization also believes short term exposure is important. There are many people, especially asthmatics, that are more sensitive to air pollutants than others.
A study published in a scientific journal last year estimated that among the 2.1 million working people in Alberta 8.5 per cent had asthma. The indirect cost due to asthma-related productivity losses in the province was between $70 to $84 million in 2005, the authors wrote.
So the World Health Organization recommends SO2 concentration of 191 ppb should not be exceeded over averaging periods of 10 minutes in duration. They did not set any recommendations for an hour-long limit, such as the EPA’s 75 ppb. Alberta’s objective is to limit hourly average concentrations to 172 ppb and there would be no change to that under new proposals.
That hourly objective is hardly ever breached in Alberta. The only air monitoring station in the province that breaks the one-hour objective more than a handful of times each year is the station that’s close to the Redwater fertilizer facility in the Fort Saskatchewan, Alta., area.
Alberta Environment does propose to dial down its 24-hour objective from 57 ppb to 48 ppb, but that would be six times more than the WHO’s recommendation of eight ppb. The province is also considering a new monthly standard of 11 ppb and a reduction in the annual objective to eight ppb. The new objectives are in the final decision-making stage in Alberta Environment….
see the rest of the article (updated)…from the edmonton journal.
Texas Pecan Grower Commits Suicide Over Loss of Orchard
story by Flavia de la Fuente
It’s a frigid 35 degrees in central Texas (that’s cold for Texas), and I’m going to visit Harvey Hayek, a former pecan farmer in the small town of Ellinger.
I say “former” pecan farmer because his livelihood has been nearly wiped out due to sulfur dioxide pollution from the Fayette coal plant, only a couple miles away, which provides a third of the city of Austin’s power.
We drive onto his orchards, and he’s going to point out the dead and dying trees. “I don’t even know where to begin, they’re all dead, it’s everywhere. Here, there, there, there…,” he says. One after another, in rows, in piles, there are oaks, elms, willows, and, of course, pecan trees. All look like they will turn into dust at a single touch.
“They’re saying that it’s drought, but that doesn’t make any sense. They have survived drought before, they’re made to do that. It’s not a water issue.” We walk to a pond and he shows me the willow trees around the water. They have a constant source of water, they take directly from the pond, and yet, they too are disintegrating.
Just a few months ago, Hayek’s father-in-law, Leonard Baca, the prior owner of the farm, took his own life.
“It’s like your wife or kid is sick and dying. That’s how my father-in-law felt about these trees. He saw death coming to these trees, and he couldn’t understand what it was. I guess he decided to bow out of it.”
The response from environmental regulators has been negligent. Letters written by Hayek yielded frosty responses from Rick Perry’s TCEQ, stating that no study was needed, since they already had the appropriate data on the area. But there are no air monitors on Hayek’s orchards (which are substantial). “The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality let us down. They were going to investigate, and they turned tail on us.”
read the rest of the article, from change.org