Clean Air  

Asphalt Plants

BLUE RIDGE ENVIRONMENTAL DEFENSE LEAGUE ~ PO Box 88 Glendale Springs, North Carolina 28629 ~ Phone (336) 982-2691 ~ Fax (336) 982-2954 ~


March 8, 2002
Louis Zeller, Principal Field Investigator

The Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League initiated this survey in response to health concerns of residents in the mountain community of Bethel in Macon County in western North Carolina. Bethel is a mixed residential/agricultural community in the Cullasaja River Valley, elevation 2200 feet asl. The Bethel-Cullasaja community is the site of an asphalt plant permitted to produce 180 tons/hour and 100,000 tons/year of paving asphalt.

On October 14, 1998 the NC Division of Air Quality issued an air pollution permit to Rhodes Brothers Paving. Three weeks later BREDL community organizers attended the first community meeting called by residents of the Bethel community in a small church on the Cullasaja River. Citizens formed Neighbors Against the Cullasaja Asphalt Plant (NACAP), a chapter of the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League.

On May 4, 1999 the asphalt plant commenced operations. Immediately, residents were driven from their homes by the smoke and odor. One 90 year old woman who lived nearby is reported to have confronted the asphalt plant operator on his property and said that she would not leave unless the plant shut down. Secretary McDevitt of the NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources ordered the plant to close and called for an investigation. On May 26 the NC Division of Epidemiology sent Dr. Luanne Williams to meet with the residents and visit the plant site. Dr. Williams said that, based on the data provided to the state by the asphalt company, the emissions were within state limits.

After a brief period, the plant resumed operation. Since then, the plant has continued to be operated by Rhodes Brothers Paving.

After two seasons of operation, we began to work with NACAP to develop a health survey to determine what effects the plant operation has had on the community. Working with Dr. William Horn, we developed a 4-page survey instrument based on an example provided by the Center for Health and Environmental Justice. The survey was carried out by a door-to-door interview method. Occasionally, survey forms were left with residents for completion by them and returned by mail.

Our survey includes interviews with 22 residents of the Bethel-Cullasaja community conducted from February 23 to March 1, 2001. All the interviewees live within a half mile of the Rhodes Brothers asphalt plant which is on Highlands Road, US highway 64. Nearly half of the respondents to the survey reported negative changes in their health since commencement of asphalt operations on May 4, 1999.

Ten of our survey respondents (45%) responded yes to question 6-B which asks, “Since May 1999 have you noticed a change in your health?” The most frequent symptoms named included high blood pressure (4 respondents), sinus problems (4 respondents), headaches (3 respondents), and shortness of breath (2 respondents). Other symptoms which developed since May 1999 include onset of weight gain (1 respondent) and episodes of dizziness (1 respondent).

The survey respondents’ male-female ratio is 48:52. The age range is from 5 to 77 years old and the average is 47.8 years. Eighteen of the respondents (82%) have lived at their present domicile since May 1999. Ten of the respondents (45%) report some tobacco use during their lives, 27% use tobacco now. Nine respondents (41%) reported occasional to moderate use of alcoholic beverages. (See Table A attached)

The following are detailed survey responses from survey subjects who answered in the affirmative to question 6-B: “Since May 1999 have you noticed a change in your health? If yes, please describe what has changed.”

uID#2 Twenty-seven year old white female reported a history of “migraine headaches” which
are not under the treatment of a physician. Since the plant opened she reported “headaches in
the morning when the plant starts” which differed from her other headaches in duration. She
said, “They actually go away.”

uID#8 Thirty year old white male said he was currently suffering from sinus pressure and
headaches which he treats with over the counter medications. He reported that his sinus began
to “act up” more since he moved here in June 2000. He reported that he was admitted to the
hospital with chest pain for overnight observation in June 2000. He was released without a
diagnosis. Family history of allergy/asthma, otherwise unremarkable.

uID#10 Sixty-six year old white female currently under treatment for arthritis said that since
summer 2000 her knees and ankles began swelling. She suffers from bronchitis and
emphysema; has smoked cigarettes for 48 years, now 3 packs/day.

uID#13 Fifty-three year old white male reported a previous history of sinus infections once a
year and seasonal congestion in winter. Since 1999 he reports that his sinus infections occur
twice a year and last longer, causing him to miss work (school maintenance employee). He says
he often smells asphalt early in the morning even in January and February when the plant is not
in operation.

uID#14 Fifty-one year old white female under treatment for high blood pressure, joint pains,
fatigue. She has a prescription for anti-depressants. No tobacco or alcohol use. Since May 1999
she reports the following changes: “shortness of breath, smoke bothers me, diesel smells, I’m
really sensitive to any smells including asphalt. I have to hold my breath when I’m around it.”
She complained of plant noise saying, “It’s so loud our windows rattle.” Her home is about 1200
feet from the asphalt plant.

uID#15 Forty year old white female in generally good health says that since May 1999 she has
begun to suffer sinus headaches which make her feel like her “head is stopped up.” Sees now
sees a doctor for her high blood pressure, and has been on medicine for one year. She has
reports no family history for hypertension or heart disease. She added that there is “black stuff
on the porch when the plant is running,” and that the noise from the plant sounds like a “jet take
off.” Her home is one quarter mile from the asphalt plant.

uID#17 Sixty-four year old white female reports history of “low blood pressure.” Since
summer 2000 she said her blood pressure is higher but still within normal range. Since the plant
opened she has suffered from dizziness and “difficult breathing” spells which last for several
hours during which she feels like there is “a cement block on my chest.” No tobacco use,
moderate alcohol. Her family history includes heart trouble, kidney/bladder trouble, and high
blood pressure.

uID#18 Fifty-eight year old white male reports onset of high blood pressure and weight gain of
20 pounds since May 1999. Former smoker, 2 pack/day for 36 years. Now taking prescription
for hypertension. He says that when the plant operates it “vibrates the house” and “things move
on the shelves.” His home is about one hundred yards from the asphalt plant.

uID# 20 Seventy-seven year old white male with history of rectal cancer surgery in 1988 and
bleeding ulcers in 1979, reports he is now in “pretty good” health. He reports that since 1999 he
has had a sinus problem which he says, “drains in my throat.” He complained of noise, dust in
the house, and strong odor in his yard from the plant which is about 700 feet from his home.

uID#21 Seventy-nine year old white female under treatment for hypertension says that since
May 1999 her blood pressure is “irregular, too high.” Also notes “eye problems, glaucoma,
retina problem, arthritis.

Our survey succeeded in eliciting data on health problems which occurred subsequent to the operation of the Rhodes Brothers Paving asphalt plant. Our survey extended one-half mile from the plant, but residents living up to three miles from the plant report asphalt odors. Next, we plan to correlate these data to the resident’s distance from the plant. We will determine ambient levels of toxins such as benzene and formaldehyde at each household in the survey using the same EPA-approved software which is utilized by the NC Division of Air Quality’s permitting division. We will correlate these data to determine cause and effect. Future reports will further this analysis.

Table A.

Table A

Distance is recorded in number of feet from the asphalt plant location
Reside = Time living at current residence
Tobacco = Smoking history, ppd = packs/day of cigarettes, number = years subject smoked,
Q = quit smoking and not smoking now
ETOH = use of alcoholic beverages per day, week, or occasionally
5/99 = Response to survey question 6-B

(posted: 3/11/2002)