The granting of a new air quality permit to Louisiana Pacific was a done deal before the hearing held May 16.
Technically, had any citizen been able to prove that granting LP's permit would violate the Clean Air Act, the EPD might deny its request.
But citizen concerns about having to live with LP's emissions, their worries that LP is causing cancer or other diseases, that the emissions are destroying their quality of life, were beside the point.
LP was going to get that permit to nearly quadruple its formaldehyde emissions no matter how much citizens opposed it.
It was a done deal.
The hearing was just a legal requirement.
A lot of accusations filled the air. LP's emissions caused cancer, sinus infections, the reduction in wildlife and an inability of cattle to breed, folks suggested.
I don't believe that LP is the cause of all ills. But I don't disbelieve individual assertions either. We know from experience that seemingly benign substances in the air, water or food may one day be found to damage our health. The surge in autoimmune diseases suggests environmental degradation, with myriad contributors. Kenneth Bridges can't prove his kidney cancer is a result of breathing emissions from the J.M. Huber and LP plants - but his doctor apparently suggested that possibility, and we shouldn't scoff at Bridges' claim.
State and federal limits on pollution are based on science, but scientific knowledge changes as technology and research uncover new information. Today, we know that lead in paint is dangerous to children. At one time, science considered it safe. It is unwise to assume that what we don't know can't hurt us; today's "safe" exposure to formaldehyde may be tomorrow's unsafe level.
We were all ignorant of the downside of OSB plants back when Huber and LP came to Jackson County, but I daresay if another OSB plant proposed to locate here we'd be nearly unanimous in our opposition.
Madison County Commissioner Stanley Thomas made a good point. How can a county protect its citizens when an industry arrives promising one level of emissions, only to be given increases later on?
All the citizens can do is vent at the public hearing where they're promised that all comments will be taken into consideration when, in fact, granting the permit is virtually a certainty.
Maybe the people who think LP will damage or is damaging their health are wrong. A lot of them are getting along in years, after all. Maybe they're right and science will prove their fears are valid in five years or 40 years.
Don't expect people who live near LP to be content with the EPD's justification just because they can't prove their suspicions that LP's emissions cause health problems. They know from the dust and the smell, that they're constantly inhaling the residue of an industrial process.