A physician's letter to environmental journalists


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This letter (below) speaks for itself. Though it was sent to several media organizations' environmental journalists, I've yet to see or hear any of them share the letter or comment on it besides allowing the original post in the comments to remain online. (Do correct me if I'm wrong.)

The author is responding to an article about the proposed ReVenture Park's proposed gasification-incinerator hybrid, and he offers a perspective not included in most of the media coverage about the project or the county's role in it.

Read more about ReVenture (though some of the project's details have already "evolved") in the February issue of Charlotte magazine (written by me), or online here: "ReVenture Under Review."

Now, in the interest of the First Amendment, here is Dr. William Blackey's verbatim response to a recent Charlotte Observer article:

Dear Bruce (and other environmental reporters).  We've talked before and you'll remember me as a physician from Elkin, North Carolina.  I read the recent article (link pasted) in the Charlotte Observer about ReVenture.  Thanks you for reading my response below.  I sent it in as a response on line.

Sincerely, William Blackley, MD

Waste-to-energy beats landfills, experts say


In reading this article it’s apparent that Mr. McKittrick is being ‘sold’ on the ‘concept’ that the only safe way to deal with waste is burn it.  He seems to be relying on advice from ‘vendors’ and others with financial interests in ReVenture.

Mr. McKittrick says, “pollution-control ‘vendors’ guarantee emissions will be within safe limits.”   I notice he didn’t say that ‘ReVenture’ guarantees that the emissions would be within safe limits.  Is this his way of saying that if there are problems the ‘vendors’ will be responsible or is it his way of saying that he doesn’t know if it is safe or not but the ‘vendors’ do?

One of the ‘expert’ proponents who testified at the recent conference sponsored by those with interest in ReVenture is Nickolas Themelis.  He has established his own Waste to Energy Foundation.  His bio says he’s the “inventor of about twenty patents related to high temperature processing.”  (His) “Current research work is on integrated waste management and the design of processes for material and energy recovery from used products.”  Sounds like his business is about waste burning ‘concepts.’

ReVenture is a ‘concept’ rather than a tested operation.  Is there any plant like ReVenture in operation that has a track record we can examine?  Would any of us buy a ‘concept’ car and put our kids in it for a test drive at highway speeds?

Has the county, city or ReVenture conducted a health risk due diligence study?  Has ReVenture completed an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) looking at risks and alternatives?

Since there is such a rush to implement some of these ‘concepts’ apparently the federal government allows companies to be exempt from the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) that requires an EIS for ‘certain action “significantly affecting the quality of the human environment.”

Just because ReVenture may be exempt from NEPA doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to skip environmental impact or medical due diligence studies.

The North Carolina Medical Institute of Medicine Task Force on Prevention (Co-chaired by the NC State Health Director, Dean of UNC Medical School and CEO of the North Carolina Medical Society) produced a study entitled, “Prevention for the Health of North Carolina: Preventive Action Plan, October 2009, revised July 2010 ”

It pointed out that Mecklenburg County had “exceeded the annual EPA standards” for particulate matter in the last several years.  Their research estimated that there are 3,000 “Premature death (adults)” in North Carolina citizens annually from particulate matter in our air.

They also pointed out in the same study that, “In 2009, Charlotte-Gastonia-Salisbury metropolitan area ranked the 8th most ozone-polluted city in the nation.”  According to the study, ‘short-term exposure to elevated ozone levels can contribute to premature death.’

Are the citizens of Charlotte really going to permit another plant that adds more ozone and particulate matter to their air?

This entire Institute of Medicine document may be read on line at the website below.  Read Chapter 7 detailing Environmental Risks.


Mr. McKittrick seems to be a businessman hoping to help the community and create jobs.  He is not an environmental or health specialist.

He’s taking the word of ‘vendors’ and others who hope to sell Charlotte a multi-million dollar business deal that they have a financial interest in.  To sweeten the bargain the ReVenture could receive a 154 million dollar federal stimulus grant to reimburse up to one third of the project’s cost . . . at taxpayer expense.

That’s a good deal for ReVenture.  But it’s not a good deal for the primary stakeholders, the citizens, who pay the taxes and who would be exposed to the toxic emissions.  Lead in gasoline and paint was a good deal for those businesses but a bad deal for humans.

The volumes of emissions that would be released from this ‘concept’ plant have not been determined.  However, the toxic health effects of emissions like those that would come from this plant have thoroughly studied.

‘Expert’ testimony or opinion about these emissions has no credibility when it comes from people who have financial interest in the outcome, whether the ‘experts’ are professors or not.

Every other incinerator in the world emits toxic emissions.   Do citizens want to gamble that ReVenture is the single safe variant . . . based on opinions from vendors who will make money from the sale?

The proponents acknowledge that the plant will “release air emissions, including carbon monoxide, fine particles, acidic gases and smog-forming compounds.”

ReVenture proponents seem to shy away from hot button topics like dioxins, carbon dioxide, global warming, weather change, nanoparticles, nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxides, volatile organic compounds and ozone.

They know that Charlotte citizens may be worried about ozone and conveniently don’t mention that ReVenture would emit gasses that turn into ozone when exposed to sunlight.

The proponents confuse the public with distracting sound bites such as when they haul out the old ‘trash barrel burning’ comparison as if that has anything at all to do with ReVenture.  ‘Trash barrel burning’ is not an option anyone is considering.

They say ReVenture will ‘release’ air emissions but they carefully avoid saying that ReVenture will ‘increase’ air emissions and worsen air quality.  They know it will worsen air quality but don’t want to acknowledge that fact.   Does anyone want to add more toxic air emissions to Charlotte air . . . besides people making money off of doing it?  Isn’t reducing air pollution a goal in Charlotte?

They may claim that burning waste would replace coal but then there is no coal plant dumping out toxic emissions near downtown Charlotte.  This spurious argument completely begs the issue since that are truly clean energies such as solar, wind, water and hydrogen that many hope will replace fossil and other biomass fuels.

Proponents claim, “Modern pollution controls and combustion techniques catch most of those emissions.”  When the company touts MACT or BACT, (maximum or best available control technology) this only means that ReVenture is required to use the best 12% of control technology available in a plant like ReVenture.  It says nothing about absolute effectiveness of control and ‘most’ is a relative term.

Besides, since ReVenture is the only plant like it so who will set the 12% standard?  Will state regulators come up with some ‘concept’ guidelines or will they base regulations on the modeling ‘concept’ presented by ReVenture.

If ReVenture violates the emission standards, what happens?  They would be fined over and over without being shut down.   In an interview with an attorney for the State Health Department, he said that stopping a plant like this for health reasons was almost impossible.  He said that once they fire up they would be almost untouchable.

As far as I can determine there is no plan for short or long term monitoring of human health effects in the vicinity of ReVenture.  To allow a nature trail through the complex is quite the paradox.

The proponents make a big deal claiming that “Emissions will be continuously monitored . . . so problems can be quickly detected.”  They neglect to mention that only a ‘few’ of the multiple air emissions would be continuously monitored.

Proponents claim that their process is very different from other incinerators.  I agree.  Many of the dangerous emissions from this plant will be gases and fine particles that are colorless and odorless.  Citizens won’t even know they are breathing them or swallowing them when they ingest locally contaminated food, fish or grazing animals.

The proponents claim that the government regulations and standards will protect the citizens.  You only have to look at NC Biomedical Waste (NCBMW) in Matthews to understand the inaccuracy of that statement.    NCBMW was emitting 1,000 % more dioxins and 300 % more mercury than the EPA deemed safe for humans.  NCBMW is not shut down.  They were recently given two years by the state and Mecklenburg County Air Pollution Control agency (they asked for four) to fix the problems after a huge public outcry.   In the mean time citizens are exposed daily

As a point of reference, an air permit only sets a minimum standard that in effect allows for a ‘maximum amount of pollution’ that an incinerator is allowed to emit.  These are called ‘de minimus’ standards.

Just as the government regulators allowed lead in paint and gasoline for years, allowed Agent Orange, formaldehyde, asbestosis and even DDT,  they could permit ReVenture as well.  Does anyone think there will be no influence peddling when it comes to regulating, fining and shutting the incinerator down for violations once they are a going concern?

Be aware that 150,000 US Veterans were awarded compensation for cancer and other diseases from exposure to dioxins in Agent Orange in Vietnam . . . thirty years after exposure.   Children in Vietnam are still born with birth defects from dioxins in the soil from Agent Orange after forty years.

No short-term study is going to show the long-term impact of agents like particulate matter, dioxins, mercury, arsenic, cadmium and others.

One ‘expert’ implied that if Charlotte doesn’t burn the waste it would go to the landfill.  Do all these ‘experts’ think that Charlotte citizens are incapable of doing what other cities have done in moving toward ‘zero waste?’

San Francisco recently hit 75% recycling and is moving higher.  Some cities have a goal of total recycling and maximum clean air.  Recycling has been shown to create more jobs than incinerators.   Has the city brought in ‘zero waste’ experts to give their ‘expert’ opinion on dealing with waste?

Charlotte has had bad air quality for years because of ‘not acting’ to disallow pollution.  Just when it looks like the air quality may improve, is Charlotte going to allow an incinerator that is guaranteed to worsen air quality no matter if it meets some ‘de minimus’ standard or not?

Observer Response to “Waste-to-energy beats landfills, experts say”.   (Feb 13) http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2011/02/13/2058394/waste-to-energy-beats-landfills.html

By William Blackey, M.D. Elkin, N.C.  -  Board Certified in Family Medicine, Fellow American Academy of Family Practice


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