Push to Weigh Cumulative Impacts of Air Pollution in NC Permitting Process
Tuesday, June 21, 2022
Environmental groups are pushing for changes to North Carolina's industry-permitting process, which they say does not account for the cumulative impacts of environmental pollution.
People exposed to multiple chemical and environmental stressors tend to have higher rates of heart disease, cancer, diabetes and other health problems.
Sherri White-Williamson, environmental justice policy director for the North Carolina Conservation Network, said currently, the state Department of Environmental Protection does not consider cumulative impacts when approving or denying permits for facilities often located in vulnerable communities.
"Within a five-mile range of a particular community in Sampson County, there are two facilities now that have been permitted to convert hog waste into biogas," White-Williamson observed. "There are active concentrated feeding operations, they are within very close proximity to an interstate highway."
Earlier this year North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper issued an executive order to create an Environmental Justice Lead position at each state agency tasked with collecting feedback on pollution from residents living in underserved communities. The order also directed state agencies to use federal and state funding to clean up impacted communities.
Daisha Williams, environmental justice manager for CleanAire NC, said while fostering conversations with impacted residents is important, state officials should be working toward implementing policies to incorporate and measure cumulative impacts when deciding where to site new polluting sources.
"Communities are still suffering, and we need to have tools and solutions," Williams argued. "Not just something that is kind of there to check off a box in the permitting or remediation process."
Accruing stressors from air pollution and climate change can also affect mental health. Research in the New England Journal of Medicine shows natural disasters and climate-related displacement can increase the risk of mental health disorders, anxiety and depression.
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