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Senate bill to be introduced today that would require small polluters to get emission permit; reverses previous rule

The air in East Durham might not get cleaner, but at least residents will know what they're breathing if a Senate bill introduced today becomes law.

Senate Bill 895, "Disapprove Environment Management Commission Rules," would reverse a controversial rule that would exempt facilities that emit low levels of certain pollutants — up to 10 tons — from having to obtain an air permit. Fourteen of these facilities are in Durham; half of them in low-income and minority neighborhoods. 

Senator Terry Van Duyn, a Democrat from Buncombe County, sponsored the bill. It is scheduled to be introduced today in the Senate, which convenes at 2 p.m.

As BCR reported in January, the Environmental Management Commission approved the rule, despite receiving 1,601 public comments opposing it and just five in favor.

Ozone, carbon monoxide, lead and particulate matter are examples of criteria pollutants.  The EPA has compiled a list of 187 hazardous air pollutants, including benzene, proven to cause cancer in humans, and naphthalene, a possible carcinogen.

The problem is that while individually these facilities emit comparatively small amounts of pollutants, their cumulative impacts, especially when the businesses are clustered in low-income, minority neighborhoods, jeopardize residents’ health. And if there is a major polluter in the area, like Brenntag, even though it must have a permit, it still diminishes the air quality for nearby residents.

The three low-level polluters on South Driver and South Plum streets still emit 4.5 tons of pollutants into the air each year, according to state data. These pollutants include nitrogen oxide, which even short-term exposures, according to the EPA, can cause “adverse respiratory effects including airway inflammation in healthy people and increased respiratory symptoms in people with asthma.”


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