Monday, February 28, 2011

Would you want an asphalt plant in your neighborhood?

Would you want an asphalt plant in your neighborhood?

Would you want an asphalt plant in your neighborhood? You probably never gave it thought, to be honest, neither had I until a local company filed for the proper permits to build and operate one approximately one mile from my home. Since the company’s announcement to build I have acted like a mad man studying the effects and “what ifs” of a hot mix asphalt plant on local citizens. My studies reveal a reoccurring theme; asphalt plants release millions of pounds of chemicals in the air during production each year. These toxins are unhealthy to breathe and present a problem for citizens living within six miles of a plant. I even joined a local organization of concerned citizens called the PON Foundation (PON), an acronym for “Protecting Our Neighborhoods”, to help in the fight to stop this plant from being built at the proposed location. Asphalt plants should not be allowed to operate in residential areas. I have donated time, money, and service in this fight to protect my family and way of life on this issue.

On February 23, 2010, the Onslow County Board of Adjustment voted to issue a Special Use Permit to Morton Trucking Inc., which will allow the company to build a 200-ton-an-hour asphalt plant near Halltown Road and U.S. 17 (Maps). Areas within a six mile radius that will be affected include: Piney Green, Wolf Swamp, Kellum, Pumpkin Center, Country Club, and the Commons. Largely populated housing developments affected are Country Club, Country Club Hills, Highland Forest, Regalwoods, Fieldcrest, Sunset Acres, Fox Horn, and Jacksonville Commons. Several schools, preschools, apartments, churches, and businesses are also included in the six mile zone that will experience implications from this plant.

A 200-ton-an-hour asphalt plant will release millions of pounds of chemicals to the air during production each year. These chemicals include many cancer-causing toxic air pollutants such as arsenic, benzene, formaldehyde, cadmium, lead, volatile organic compounds, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and very fine condensed particulates (BRENDL, BRENDL - Asphalt Plant Fact Flyer Sheets). Asphalt fumes contain substances known to cause cancer, coughing, wheezing or shortness of breath, severe irritation of the skin, headaches, dizziness, and nausea. Louis Zeller, science director for the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League (BRENDL) stated in an interview with the Daily News that, “Arsenic, benzene and formaldehyde are very harmful to children, the elderly, the infirm, and those who work and play outdoors”. Zeller added, “Asphalt pollution is big pollution and exposure to low levels of benzene and other pollutants in the toxic soup emitted by an asphalt plant have been known to cause Leukemia and negatively affect the immune system and bone marrow” (Dewitt). The U. S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that very fine condensed particulates called particulate matter can pose the greatest problems because they can get deep into your lungs, and some may even get into the bloodstream. Scientific studies have linked particle pollution, especially fine particles, with a series of significant health problems, including: decreased lung function; aggravated asthma; development of chronic bronchitis; irregular heartbeat; heart attacks; and premature death in people with heart or lung disease (EPA).

Cedars at Northeast Creek
8x10" oil plein air
Bernie Rosage Jr.
 Asphalt plants bring other concerns to communities beyond health issues. Local landowners will suffer adverse impacts to their property values. A 2003 study by BREDL on property values around a North Carolina asphalt plant showed a 27 percent average drop in property value and a 56 percent decrease in areas closest to the plant (BRENDL). Environmental issues cause another concern, especially how run-off from the plants aggregate piles can affect our rivers and drinking water. The proposed plant site adjoins a protected area of wetlands on the Little Northeast Creek. Heavy rains from hurricanes and nor’easters, common to our area, could prove devastating to our local rivers as the Little Northeast Creek feeds the Northeast Creek which runs into the New River. The water and river concerns have brought the New River Foundation and the White Oak-New Riverkeeper Alliance organizations into the fray. All their hard work protecting and cleaning up our rivers over the past decade could easily be wiped out with a single hurricane. Our rivers and coastline draw tourist from all over the state and beyond, one can only imagine the economic impact on Onslow County if we lost these prized resources.

Most people embrace new industry which bring jobs and revenue to our area, myself included, but there are cases where the costs outweigh the profits. An asphalt plant in a populated area is such a case. The proposed plant is said to employ four to ten people on site. The county revenues generated by these salary numbers will not come close to offsetting the loss in county property taxes due to the 27 to 56 percent decrease in property values. There have been claims that we breathe in toxins every time we fill our car’s gas tank. This is true but the two minutes a week it takes to fill our tanks cannot be compared to the twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week that an asphalt plant releases toxins into the air. Some may argue that the North Carolina Division of Air Quality has the responsibility of keeping our state’s air clean and monitoring asphalt sites to make sure they follow proper guidelines. This is true, but the unabashed truth is that they are underfunded, under staffed, and cannot monitor all the state plants in a timely fashion.

View from my driveway.
Plein air oil on canvas.
 The fight to stop the proposed site of this asphalt plant is a personal one for me. I am a landscape artist and the idea of not being able to paint outside in my own yard frightens me. As an artist, I know the dangers cadmium and lead can present since they are incorporated in many oil paints. I make sure I use the utmost care when handling them. I am also aware that toxins do not have to smell to present a problem. They can be odorless as in the odorless mineral spirits I use to clean my brushes which is extremely dangerous if not properly handled.

My daughter and
painting buddy,
Art is my passion and my livelihood. The real cause for my fight goes beyond passion, livelihood, and property values; I fight for my daughter’s health and way of life. My nine year old daughter has asthma and an asphalt plant in our neighborhood means that she will never be able to play outside in our yard again. I’m not against asphalt plants; I enjoy driving on paved roads, I merely have no use for them in our neighborhoods. A simple solution is to build the plant in an unpopulated area where people could have the choice to live near it. When the bottom line and a handful of jobs are more important than our quality of life, we are in a sad state of affairs.

All paintings in this blog post were painted en plein aire near my home. All are within the area that will be affected by the proposed asphalt site location. Most of the locals will recognize these scenes. Sad to think that if the permit is granted by North Carolina Division of Air Quality (public hearing March 1st... click HERE for details) I will never be able to recreate these paintings on location ever again without adverse health effects!

A concerned citizen, artist, and father...

More paintings...


stuart said...

No asphalt plants equals no highways, streets, parking lots, etc.. How does this affect you?

Bernie Rosage Jr. said...

Stuart... I realize this post is a long read but I covered that very thing when I wrote... "I’m not against asphalt plants; I enjoy driving on paved roads, I merely have no use for them in our neighborhoods. A simple solution is to build the plant in an unpopulated area where people could have the choice to live near it." Thanks for dropping by...

shivabizconn said...

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Anonymous said...

Any update since? Did they go ahead and build it? How is your life now?

Bernie Rosage Jr. said...

So far so good... they haven't built it.

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