Biomass plant threatens gains made in air quality

To the editor:

There is a bright side for Dubois County. If you look at the long-term data on the American Lung Association website, particulate pollution has been improving over the last 10 years. However, despite the improvements, air pollution remains above what the Environmental Protection Agency considers safe levels for individuals. The air quality in Dubois County today remains dangerously unhealthy per the federal regulations. Burning biomass for energy, as Jasper is on course to do with its plans to convert the power plant into a biomass facility, will only make this situation worse and will threaten any improvements in air quality that have been made over the last decade.

The biomass industry markets its product as clean energy. However, at a meeting in 2010, I presented public data from the Indiana Department of Environmental Management comparing the proposed biomass plant in Scott County to the Clifty Creek Power Plant in Madison, which is listed by the EPA as one of the top 100 polluters in the nation. I compared particulate emissions from the Madison plant to the numbers projected by IDEM for the Scott County facility. Particulate pollution from this plant would have been 10 times higher per megawatt produced than the coal-powered power plant in Madison. An IDEM air control engineer at that meeting acknowledged that the data from its website appeared accurate.

The truth is that biomass combustion is dirtier than coal. Current medical research shows that particulate emissions from biomass combustion are a serious health hazard, especially for children, whose lungs are very susceptible to these toxins. The question I pose to your community is: Why burn biomass within the city limits, where exposure to children is highest? In light of the fact that Dubois County already fails standards that are considered safe by the EPA, why is development of a biomass plant even being considered? It’s time to demand that your city, county and state government officials protect the health of your citizens. It’s not clean energy if it makes your citizens sick.

—Shane Avery, M.D.

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