Public health concerns grow over tire test burn

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(Host) Public health concerns are growing over the test burning of tires at the International Paper Company plant in Ticonderoga, New York.

Last Thursday the company temporarily halted the test after it learned that emissions briefly exceeded permitted levels.

The Vermont Health Department says it’s monitoring the situation closely, but opponents of the burn want the state to do more.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports:

(Zind) Last Tuesday, shortly after the test burn began, Addison County Senator Harold Giard got a call from a constituent who complained of respiratory problems because of the burn. Giard went to see the woman and they took a drive in his car.

(Giard) “As we drove, you would take a deep breath and it was almost as if there wasn’t enough oxygen in the air. There was something in the air. Could you name it as burning tires? Of course not. But there was something that was wrong, something that was different.”

(Zind) Giard and two other legislators have sent a letter to state officials asking them to publicly call for a halt to the test.

The letter also asks the state to follow up on all calls it receives from people complaining of health problems that might be associated with the test.

Health Commissioner Sharon Moffatt says her department started doing just that over the weekend. But Moffatt says officials have received fewer than half a dozen calls from people reporting illness they believe is the result of the test burn.

She says the department is in daily contact with caregivers and hospital emergency rooms.

(Moffatt) “So far all the emergency rooms are indicating nothing above the normal amount of respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses that they would see coming in. We are also calling a couple of provider practices that we’re keeping an eye on, particularly that have children, to see if they’re having an increased volume.”

(Zind) Doctor Jack Mayer is an Addison County pediatrician. Mayer is also on the board of the citizens group, People for Less Pollution, which opposes the tire burn. Mayer says in four days last week, three of his patients were admitted to Fletcher Allen Hospital. Because they weren’t emergency room admissions, it’s likely they didn’t show up on the health department’s surveys.

(Mayer) “I can’t remember having that many kids admitted for respiratory disease. These are kids with serious underlying respiratory illness. They are the most vulnerable.”

(Zind) Mayer says that in his practice he’s seen an increase in respiratory and eye problems since the test began. He says there’s no way to link the tire burn and the cases he’s seeing, but he wants the health department to take steps to advise people living downwind from the Ticonderoga plant.

(Mayer) “We’re not talking about putting on moon suits. We’re just talking about if the plume is coming over your house or your school, your kids shouldn’t be running around outside breathing twice as fast as they normally do, getting in twice as much as these toxic emissions.”

(Zind) Health commissioner Moffatt said there’s no reason to believe Vermonters, including schoolchildren, need to take any special precautions right now, but

(Moffatt) “The health department and Department of Environmental Conservation stands ready to issue a health alert should we get to a point where the emissions from that plant are beyond what that permit level is.”

(Zind) Opponents of the tire burn say the health department should issue advisories now. They point to last Thursday’s high emissions and they question International Paper’s testing procedures.

The company resumed the test burn Monday. It says officials from the Environmental Protection Agency and the states of New York and Vermont are monitoring all testing at the plant.

For VPR News, I’m Steve Zind.

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