Letter: Decision with health costs

Last modified: Tuesday, February 23, 2016
*Archive Article*
On Feb. 1, a Mohawk school board subcommittee heard from a regulator, an engineer, a health agent, an environmental specialist and concerned citizens about relegating two almost-new high efficiency, low-emissions gas boilers at the high school to backup heaters for five wood-pellet boilers. Based on what I heard, this is a misguided attempt to save money based on wishful thinking and inadequate discussion of the potentially harmful effects of burning pellets.

The perception is that burning wood pellets is a “clean,” carbon-neutral alternative to the use of other fuels. The Department of Energy Resources representative acknowledged that wood burning is not carbon-neutral, and was unable to show that burning pellets helps with global warming. The feasibility study for the project failed to address another very serious issue: particulate matter emissions less than 2.5 micrometers (PM2.5). It is well documented that exposure to PM2.5 is dangerous, especially to children and the elderly. Yet the feasibility study failed to address the impact of these emissions on a vulnerable population, school-aged young people.

Having grants available to schools for installing wood-pellet boilers has been swaying decision-makers. We are all aware that schools are facing financial hardships. My fear is that the opportunity for the Mohawk School District, with its declining student enrollment and half-empty schools, to focus on saving money by participating in these programs is clouding the vision of local officials. I am certain that once the real costs of burning wood pellets on this scale are known, including negative health impacts, questionable financial advantages, and increases in greenhouse gas emissions, it will be clear that these costs outweigh any benefit. Let’s get the citizens of the affected school districts involved in assessing the cost to their children’s health before jumping on this bandwagon.