For Immediate Release 22 January 2011


The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is awarding $25 million to the Health Effects Institute to develop the tools and scientific information to address combined effects of air pollution on humans and the environment.

“This underscores the need for more scientific information on the effects of air pollution from sources like biomass incinerators on people’s health as well as on climate change,” said Diana Somerville, a science writer concerned about the need for reliable information about the impacts of biomass incinerators.

She notes an American Lung Association position statement that says, “biomass emissions contain fine particulate matter, sulfur oxides, carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds, and various irritant gases such as nitrogen oxides that can scar the lungs.

Like cigarettes, biomass emissions also contain chemicals that are known or suspected to be carcinogens, such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and dioxin.”

Nanoparticles, microscopic specks so tiny that hundreds equal the width of a human hair, are emitted by high temperature biomass burning. Nanoparticles, a tenth of a micron or less, present new challenges to human health. Slipping through all the body’s defense mechanisms, nanoparticles cross the placenta and blood-brain barriers.

Their health impact aren’t limited to individuals with pre-existing conditions. Children may be especially vulnerable.

Toxic nanoparticles from incineration carry poisons to every part of the body. Special medical treatments use nanoparticles to slip drugs past the body’s immune system.

Across Washington state, as many as 15 more wood-burning biomass incinerators are in various stages of the permitting process, according to the Department of Ecology.

“Risks to human health — and to our living, breathing ecosystems upon which our lives and livelihoods depend — are being trivialized, politicized or dismissed,” says Shirley Nixon with the Center for Environmental Law and Policy.

Biomass in Port Angeles and Port Townsend also means increased diesel emissions, from trucks hauling wood from the forests to fuel the shoreline incinerators and then haul away the ash.

Even short exposures can prove deadly for people with asthma, chronic respiratory problems or cardiovascular disease, health experts note.

“Powerful industries and wealthy special interest groups command the biggest megaphones to spew inaccurate and misleading information,” says Gretchen Brewer with Port Townsend Air Watchers.

“Legislators, environmental enforcement groups and ordinary citizens are being told that biomass is a panacea, yielding everything from jobs to jet fuel.“

“The location of Nippon’s plant – on the edge of a city, upwind from the largest population in the county – would not normally be allowed, because it poses serious health questions,” notes energy consultant Bob Lynette. “The Nippon plant’s site ensures that almost all the pollution goes over Port Angeles, Sequim, and the area in between – reaching the largest possible number of Clallam County residents.”

As people wake up to the health hazards of biomass incinerators and question what happens to vast areas of forests stripped clean, opposition is growing.

In Washington, Thurston County Commissioners passed a 12-month moratorium on biomass plants becoming the first county in the nation willing to demand time to gather the latest scientific information. This moratorium is supported by the state chapter of the Sierra Club as well as the Thurston – Mason County Medical Society.

Seven conservation groups have taken legal action to dispute the electrical plant that Nippon Paper wants to build on the Port Angeles shoreline:

No Biomass Burn, Port Townsend Air Watchers, the Center for Environmental Law and Policy, the World Temperate Rainforest Network, the Olympic Forest Coalition, the Olympic Environmental Council and the Cascade Chapter of the Sierra Club.

“Once people learn about the health issues and discover there are big environmental questions, they ask, ‘What can we do?’” says Somerville, who is acting as the spokesperson for the coalition.

Some suggestions: Check the facts for yourself. Make your voice heard. Tell friends and neighbors and co-workers. Call and write your legislators. Join with others, like PT Airwatchers and the Concerned Citizens of Thurston County.

Many other questions remain: Can we find ways to quantify the value of human health, instead of the cost of sickness? Can we measure the value of keeping the trees in our forests, where they store carbon, clean the air and serve as the lungs for our planet? Can we meet our energy needs without endangering fish, shellfish and our precious waters? Can the people in our communities find creative ways to sustain local economies and create meaningful jobs with decent wages?

Let’s remember the old saying, “Act in haste, repent in leisure.” Washington citizens need time to find all kinds of answers. Our children and grandchildren will be living with them for a long, long time.

– 30 –


Diana Somerville



Attached: EPA News Release


Latisha Petteway (News Media Only)

Dale Kemery (News Media Only)

January 21, 2011

EPA Awards $25 Million to Improve Air Quality 

WASHINGTON – Over the course of five years, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is awarding $25 million to the Health Effects Institute (HEI) to help address the latest challenges to improving air quality and protecting health.  With the funding, HEI will develop the next generation of tools and scientific information to examine the combined effects of air pollution exposures on people’s health and the relationship between air quality and climate change.

“This grant continues a long and fruitful partnership to address air quality issues,” said Dr. Paul Anastas, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Research and Development.  “The scientific contributions by HEI complement and augment EPA’s extensive clean air research program, which is providing the critical science needed to improve air quality.”

Over the past 30 years, the partnership has made significant contributions to protecting health from air pollution. HEI has funded more than 250 studies in North America, Europe, and Asia that have:

  • produced important research on the effects of particulate matter
  • initiated new research to track health outcomes of air quality improvements
  • conducted special scientific reviews on air toxics from mobile sources

HEI is an independent, non-profit research organization that provides impartial science to help address air quality problems in the nation. Established in 1980, HEI receives joint funding from EPA and the motor vehicle industry. The partnership has produced critical research thatis often used in important EPA
decision-making processes.

More information on the clean air research program:  http://www.epa.gov/airscience

More information on HEI:  http://cfpub.epa.gov/ncer_abstracts/index.cfm/fuseaction/outlinks.centers/center/101


2 Responses

  1. They do not have to wait 5 years. Simply read “Nanoparticles and Public Health” published in Microscopy Today, May, 2011.
    “Nanoparticles and Public Health.”

    Microscopy Today, Cambridge University Press, May 2011, page 72


  2. HEI receives its funding from EPA and the “motor vehicle industry.” Can you say conflict of interest?

    I have worked in the legal profession for a while and know that an expert will say what he or she is paid to say.

    Rather than spend $25 million in research, they could save a lot of time and money reading the American Lung Association State of the Air 2010, specifically pages 25 and 26, which pretty much lays out the impact of particulate matter on humans.

    Ahh, well, if it helps to delay action for five years while HEI studies the topic the auto industry and corporate interests now inside EPA will have done their job!

    However, there is more than enough science already to convince sane folks that biomass is a significant health hazard. Throwing $25 million more at it is not going to change it — or is it?

    Perhaps they can debunk the American Heart Association, the American Lung Association, the associations of physicians around the country who are coming out against biomass because of the release of the ultra-fine particulate matter which cannot be caught and which can kill.

    Hear the American Lung Association, at page 25:

    “First and foremost, short term exposure to particulate pollution can kill.”

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