Air Quality Permit Withdrawn for Proposed Hardy County Log Fumigation Facility

By Olivia Miller

In mid-April, a proposed log fumigation facility in Hardy County made national news after Allegheny Wood Products sought an air quality permit from the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection’s Division of Air Quality. 

Allegheny Wood Products had planned to tuck the toxic-spewing facility away in the quintessential West Virginia countryside in Baker—a peaceful unincorporated community full of farms, families, and forest along the Lost River. 

After overwhelming public outcry and bold pushback from the Hardy County Commission and environmental groups, Allegheny Wood Products formally withdrew the air quality permit on May 24. The company cited “a further review of our business needs” as a reason for the application’s withdrawal.

According to the company’s now rescinded permit application, the facility would have emitted 9.4 tons a year of methyl bromide—a toxic fumigant that kills fungi and wood-boring insects. Prolonged exposure to the chemical can cause central nervous system and respiratory failure in humans and can harm the lungs, eyes, and skin, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency. 

On May 4, at the Division of Air Quality’s virtual public hearing, local residents and public officials made it abundantly clear that they would not stand for the construction of this facility near their homes and farms. More than 160 people attended the public hearing that lasted nearly four hours.

One concerned citizen mentioned the proximity to East Hardy High School, only five miles from the proposed construction site; others stated that this would cause long-term health problems for their family and friends. One forthright commenter asked, “Are you really the Department of Environmental Protection?” 

A brief presentation during the hearing from the Hardy County Commission revealed that the commission had found out about the proposed facility in the same fashion that the public did through the public notification made in the Moorefield Examiner. Hardy County Planner Melissa Scott said the proposed location off U.S. Route 48 is zoned for agricultural use, not industrial use. She thanked the Department of Environmental Protection for holding the public hearing, as it was not required, and asked the public to stick with them as they pushed back against the zoning permit.

The fierce opposition to this facility sent a clear message that people are tired of the repeated attacks on the environment and their health and that when we stand together, we can fight back against polluters and win. 

More on methyl bromide

Most uses of methyl bromide, an odorless, colorless gas, were banned under the 1987 Montreal Act, an international agreement to protect the ozone layer, because of its ability to deplete the ozone layer. It is considered a class one ozone-depleting substance. The United States and 197 other countries restricted most uses of methyl bromide, including in soil applications for crops. 

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the phaseout of the use of methyl bromide began in 1994, and another took effect in 1996. However, several exemptions from the phaseout include certain agricultural uses, critical uses, and quarantine and pre-shipment uses. These exemptions are valid until an acceptable alternative for methyl bromide is found, but the U.S. Department of Agriculture has not yet approved one. 

So, essentially, the use of methyl bromide in the United States has been banned, but not really.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s webpage dedicated to methyl bromide notes that agricultural growers still inject methyl bromide nearly two feet into the ground to sterilize the soil before crops are planted. It is also used to treat grapes, asparagus, logs, and other imported goods to prevent introducing pests to the U.S. 

In a real head-scratcher, the immediate paragraph following this statement made by the Environmental Protection Agency regarding agriculture use, the Agency reiterates that it is a toxic substance. Sounds like a great substance to be treating our food with, aye?