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Rally Against Tire Burn Shows Determination Not To Smoke Peace Pipe With IP

Tuesday November 7, 2006

By Ed Barna

    Chased from the Middlebury Green to Middlebury Union High School by wretched weather, the “Last Gasp Bash” on Oct. 28 became more of a solidarity gathering than a public protest. But with the threat of even worse stuff coming down from the sky for two weeks starting on Nov. 6, anti-tire-pollution forces are trying to stave off the curse, as it were, rather than ending their struggle as the gathering’s official title might seem to imply.

    The day before, PLP and the Coalition had filed an amicus brief in support of the State of Vermont’s effort in New York’s Second District Court of Appeals to obtain an injunction. There was a booth between the high school’s lobby and auditorium advertising, in the style of the “Peanuts” comic strip, “Legal Advice 5 cents,” and “The lawyer is in” (actually Janet Warren was in). The picture of comic strip Lucy was a joke, but not the signup sheet and the need to cover legal fees, toward which attendees were encouraged to make donations.

    Across the corridor, the Coalition was promoting another campaign, an ongoing attempt to pressure IP by getting “green” businesses to indicate their displeasure, possibly by backing off from using IP products. Barbara Supeno, a co-founder and director along with fellow Vergennes resident Barbara Ernst, said Seventh Generation, Ben & Jerry’s, and Dan’s Chocolates have been supportive (all from Vermont) and California-based Newman’s Own Organics as well.

    But Green Mountain Coffee Roasters has balked at taking such a stand before the test, Supeno said. Apparently there is a relationship between the companies having to do with IP making biodegradable cups. Attendees were encouraged to send postal java-lines in that direction.

    In the auditorium, the group was shouting in unison “John Faraci, you’re fired    !” as a stress-buster. Faraci has refused to meet with Gov. James Douglas to talk about the latter’s appeal to halt the test until the Ticonderoga plant has state-of-the-art controls--that is, an electrostatic precipitator. There was an ESP at the rally, too, made of cardboard, walking around with a sign saying it was looking for a home.

    The gathering was strikingly different than many adult happenings in that so many children were present. Sometimes children have a way of cutting through the smog and saying things directly, like Emily Arnold of Shoreham, whose take on the idea of burning tires was “It smells awful. And  it makes really oily black smoke.”

    Pediatrician Jack Mayer, a leader in PLP from the start, was the lead speaker before the auditorium was given over to Bread & Puppet and several folk music groups. “Kids are different than adults,” he said. Their cells are dividing rapidly--their DNA is replicating frequently, making it more susceptible to chemical damage from pollutants. This is what I studied at Columbia University School of Public Health as a National Cancer Institute Fellow in Epidemiology.

    The worst problems, Mayer said, will come from the fine particulates that will be emitted without an ESP (which makes them clump together so they will fall or stick to objects by adding an electrical charge). These are pieces of soot so small that a breathing mask won’t stop them--”you need a moon suit,” he said.

    Mayer compared the situation to the way acceptable levels for lead kept dropping as more and more was learning about its dangers (60 when he was in medical school, then 40, then 25 and 10, and now 5 ug/dl). The World Health Organization has called for a 2/3rds cut in fine particulate exposures in developing countries, he said, and “Morton Lippman, one of the EPA scientists on the Clean Air Science Advisory Committee said of fine particulates, that only cigarette smoking has more impact on public health.”

    The Environmental Protection Agency has a Clean Air Science Advisory Committee, and its members “are so concerned that they have urgently petitioned the Bush-appointed EPA administrator, Steven Johnson, to cut allowable fine particulate emissions in half.” Johnson “has acknowledged the science but refuses to lower the annual emissions limit, a failure that the committee estimates will cost 5-10,000 lives a year.”

    Mayer was livid about the Bush administration becoming a danger to Addison County and especially to its children. “I can’t believe we are even having this dispute with IP. It’s like arguing about whether women should have the right to vote, or if there should be child labor laws. Did we all fall down a rabbit hole and come out the other side in 1969 before there was an EPA, before there was a  Clean Air Act?”

    “We were doing so well with environmental progress, until Al Gore was elected president in 2000 and locked out of the White House. Since then the EPA has become--hold your nose--the E PU, and 30 years of progress has been flushed down the toilet and incinerated into the atmosphere,” Mayer said.

    IP has said they won’t know if there is a problem until TDF (tire-derived-fuel) is tested. But Supeno summed up the anti-test view with the words, “The test is rigged.” Here are some of the points she, Mayer and others made:

   --Fine particulates won’t be measured directly, but will be estimated by a computer model from the figure for total particulates. This logically contradicts IP’s position that each situation is different and the test is needed to learn about this fuel and this plant. And no one knows which  previous test will serve as a model, leaving open the possibility that it will be drawn from a mill with an ESP, since all the company’s other TDF mills have one.

   --The company has said it will run the burn at an 80 percent burn rate, but a 100 percent burn, with its hotter fire, could create pollutants that will not be tested--as well as created more pollutants by volume. The plant currently puts out more pollutants than all Vermont industries combined.

   --The company can use tires from which any reinforcing steel belts have been removed, but if steel-belted tires go into the TDF, that will added heavy metal pollution that the test will not measure.

   --IP will measure its pollution against the standards set by its operating permit, which do not include the latest standards for fine particulates.

    During the controversy, Vermont opponents have consistently said they recognize the mill’s vital economic role--which includes jobs and a paper pulp log market for loggers in Vermont. Mayer repeated this stance: “I want to be perfectly clear, this is not about burning tires, this is about burning tires with obsolete, inadequate pollution controls.”

    One of the attendees pointed out that if IP had installed an ESP three years ago, even at a cost of $10-15 million as estimated today, the savings in fuel oil would have paid for it by now.

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