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State Dept. of Public Health weighs in on planned biomass plant

Date: 11/30/2009

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

BOSTON -- Another state agency has entered into the approval process and controversy over the proposed Palmer Renewable Energy biomass plant planned for Page Boulevard in Springfield.

The Massachusetts Depart-ment of Public Health (DPH) has issued a letter of comment to the members of Stop Toxic Incinerators in Springfield (STIS) about the facility's Beneficial Use Determination (BUD) permit. That permit reclassified construction and demolition waste so that it will be burned at the plant as fuel.

The letter read in part, "Given the variability of the C&D [construction and demolition] waste stream, we believe that the overall approach of the BUD to retrospectively determine whether the fuel is meeting permit specifications is not sufficiently health protective ... Given that these chemicals and trace metals are likely to be released in the emission stream, we believe more information is needed on the speciation and behavior of chemicals and trace elements during combustion."

Noting "the complex mixture associated with the combustion emissions is likely to result in the absorption of trace metals and other chemicals to fine particles which, when inhaled, delivers these pollutants deep into the lung," the DPH is looking to analyze the actual impact the plant's emissions would have on the health of residents in the Greater Springfield area.

The Department of Environmental Protection will be conducting a hearing on Dec. 2 to determine the final air quality permitting for the facility. The meeting will take place at 7 p.m. at the Kennedy Middle School, 1385 Berkshire Ave.

Michaelann Bewsee, the founder of STIS, told Reminder Publications that it isn't common for one state agency to take a stand on an issue counter to another agency.

"They [the DPH] were quite brave," she said.

She is hopeful the letter from the DPH will delay the permitting process until a health impact study can be completed.

"If there is nothing to worry about, then why not do one, she asked.

STIS also announced that Benjamin Rajotte, assistant visiting professor of law at Western New England College School of Law, and the Conservation Law Foundation have both filed separate intervention motions detailing what each see as weaknesses in the provisional BUD permit.

The motions could lay the foundation for a future legal challenge.

"We are hopeful the state will recognize that it has proceeded too quickly, without enough factual data to protect our community and will withhold final permitting until the state can absolutely guarantee that residents will not suffer from this incinerator," Bewsee said.