Op/Ed

Letter to the editor: Vergennes controlled burn a serious health hazard

I read with interest the recent articles about Vergennes Grand Senior Living, in particular the information provided about the planned controlled burn. There has been talk in town about this plan. People have contacted me by email and on the street and voiced worry — mainly, I think, because of postings of mine at Front Porch Forum. More than one person had stories to tell about being in and around house fires, and their stories give cause for concern.
The articles in the paper give information about lead and asbestos removal, along with other potentially hazardous material. Good news. Even so, neighbors have general concerns about smoke inhalation. Imagine the smoke alone wafting from this burn. Think of all the frail and ill elderly right there in that care home, never mind nearby residents with lung or other health concerns. Is everyone meant to pack up and move out for the duration of the burn? If the burn begins at 6 in the morning, this would mean leaving town the day before or very early in the morning.
The EPA tells us this about any sort of burn (no matter the toxicity of materials): “Some people may be more vulnerable to the impact of smoke. Their health may be adversely affected even when open burning is done in accordance with all applicable regulations.” That refers to any smoke at all. This fire will generate smoke. The firefighters will have protective gear. Surrounding residents will not.
New York State offers more information about burns at their Department of Health website. They say, “The smoke released by any type of fire (forest, brush, crop, structure, tires, waste or wood burning) is a mixture of particles and chemicals produced by incomplete burning of carbon-containing materials. All smoke contains carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and particulate matter (PM or soot). Smoke can contain many different chemicals, including aldehydes, acid gases, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), benzene, toluene, styrene, metals and dioxins…. Exposure to high levels of smoke should be avoided. Individuals are advised to limit their physical exertion if exposure to high levels of smoke cannot be avoided. Individuals with cardiovascular or respiratory conditions (e.g., asthma), fetuses, infants, young children, and the elderly may be more vulnerable to the health effects of smoke exposure.”
Why would a burn be conducted in the middle of the city and not in a rural area, farther away from people? The information I have given has been posted on Front Porch Forum and the questions I have posed about the smoke dangers have been asked, with no response. It would put minds at rest to get direct answers. The city website does not provide more answers.
I have great respect and admiration for the fire service and their professionalism and dedication to the calling. I appreciate why firefighters would value an opportunity like this. Still, I remain very concerned about public health.
Marcia Merryman-Means
Vergennes

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