Help Citizens Breathe Clean Air

Target: Becky Keogh, Director of Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality

Goal: Increase awareness around hydrogen sulfide contamination and protect public health.

Citizens in Arkansas are breathing dangerous air. In Crossett, Arkansas, a rotten-egg smell is familiar to its citizens, who regularly breathe in hydrogen sulfide from wastewater near the Georgia-Pacific paper mill. Although reports have demonstrated that hydrogen sulfide air and odor measurements regularly exceed safe limits, the paper mill has not been penalized or charged. Instead, residents face health problems such as eye, nose and throat irritation, headaches, poor memory, balance problems, and breathing difficulties. This is especially true for people who suffer from asthma and respiratory problems already.

In the 1990s, the paper mill reached settlements with citizens for being found responsible for corroded air conditioners, swing sets, basketball goals, and other properties. While hydrogen sulfide was not included in the emissions permit for the paper mill, leaving them free of liability, the permit now includes overall hydrogen sulfide released, especially in its wastewater paths. Georgia-Pacific has tried to mitigate its emissions by creating pipes for wastewater instead of letting them flow openly, but this has not reduced emissions.

Over three years of monitoring, Arkansas has released over 25 notices of hydrogen sulfide air measurements exceeding the limit. A complaint was made to the EPA in 2011 followed by site visits, conversations, and investigations, but the situation remains the same. In a predominantly black area with 22.8% of the population living below the poverty line compared to the national average of 12.7%, residents have no other choice but to go on as usual. It is unfair that residents must suffer health problems because a company refuses to find alternative ways to dispose of wastewater. Urge the Arkansas Director of Environmental Quality to increase awareness for this public and environmental health issue, and protect both from pollution.

PETITION LETTER:

Dear Ms. Keogh,

Residents in Crossett, Arkansas suffer from health problems due to the hydrogen sulfide released by the Georgia-Pacific paper mill. The steam from dirty wastewater finds its way into their lungs and respiratory systems, inducing problems such as eye, nose, and throat irritation, headaches, poor memory and balance problems, breathing difficulties, dizziness, and sleep problems.

While regular monitoring of hydrogen sulfide levels show that they exceed safe levels, there have been no cases or penalties brought up against Georgia-Pacific. Many people seem skeptical of the residents’ ailments and complains. Nearly a third of the vulnerable community of Crossett lives below the poverty line, compounding even more health problems for many residents.

As the director for the Department of Environmental Quality of Arkansas, you must protect underrepresented communities, especially, from threats such as this. Georgia-Pacific can no longer claim that it is not responsible for hydrogen sulfide emissions or that it has no way of measuring how much it is releasing. Plenty of evidence has shown that they are the 13th biggest producers of hydrogen sulfide of a list of 508 facilities. I hope that you take appropriate action and begin helping these communities by protecting them from unjust environmental hazard exposure.

Sincerely,

[Your Name Here]

Photo Credit: Nicolaus Czarnecki

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