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Editorial: Should the Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA) Say Yes or No to CES?

(From Carol Patnode of Mason City)

When making the decision whether to allow a “conditional use permit” to the proposed CES facility, what should the ZBA pay attention to?  There is much information that brings the word caution to mind – which I will refer to as “red flags”.  Looking individually at the “red flags” may not make a significant impression, but as a group, they are evidence as to why the ZBA should say NO.

Red Flag #1.  Toxic Emissions:  We know there will be toxic emissions, but the level of them is currently an unknown.  An Iowa Department of Public Health Environmental Toxicologist encouraged Mason City to pursue additional information on the potential emissions so the department could provide feedback on the possible health impacts from the proposed project.  If the Iowa Department of Public Health does not know what the emissions will be and how they will impact public health, then how can the board say yes to CES?    

Red Flag #2.  EPA Standards:  The EPA is working to upgrade the air quality standards so they do a better job of protecting human health than the current standards.  Current standards have been shown to be ineffective in protecting public health per scientific data from numerous health agencies (e.g., American Heart Association, American Lung Association, American Medical Association, American Cancer Society).  A DNR representative stated that CES would be grandfathered in and would not be required to comply with these new standards.

Red Flag #3.  DNR Monitoring:  Current DNR requirements only allow for monitoring toxic stack emissions one day a year and this is not adequate by any standards, especially when the waste stream can be adjusted for that one day of testing.  A DNR representative stated, “we are prohibited from being more stringent than the federal regulations (EPA) so we could only implement those rules and nothing more stringent”.

Red Flag #4.  Accumulation of Toxins:  Toxins emitted and produced by this process accumulate in the environment and in our bodies.  Dr. Paul Connett who has a Ph.D. in chemistry said “that dioxins accumulate in the body and if a woman becomes pregnant, the dioxins can then be passed to the fetus”.  So even if CES stays below the specified standards established by the EPA, there can still be health and safety issues.

Red Flag #5.  Safety of Pyrolysis and Tires:  CES has said many times that they will combust as many tires as they can get.  In a report, the California Integrated Waste Management Board stated that “ the potential for explosion and fire exists at pyrolysis, gasification, and liquefaction operations.  Operating at high temperatures and in a low oxygen condition increases the risk of fire and explosion through accidental air infiltration.  Catastrophic fires have destroyed some facilities.”

Red Flag #6.  Other Agencies/Groups Must Approve the Project:  At the last ZBA meeting the board discussed how there will be other groups (Landfill Board, City Council…) that must approve the CES proposal, thus implying that the ZBA could allow the permit and there would still be other gates that CES must pass through.  It is true that this proposal must be approved by other groups but the ZBA is the only one that must determine that public health and safety is protected before they can vote yes.  Even the DNR does not make that determination and stated “we do not have rules based on health effects.  Health related concerns from emissions should be directed to the Health Department”.

Red Flag #7.  Progress:  A member of the ZBA implied that those who don’t agree with this project are standing in the way of progress and this can prevent us from moving forward with technology.  Don’t judge a book by it’s cover.   Progress implies that people are improving a process and improving how decisions are made.  This may in reality be taking a step backward into an era when decisions were guided by things other than human health and safety.

Red Flag #8.  Change of Leadership:  Pam Myhre was removed from the lead position of managing the flow of information to the ZBA and restricted from talking to a member of the city council unless she was supervised.  She has basically been silenced.  When government attempts to eliminate different voices in the political process in an effort to control the flow of information – that sends up another red flag.

Are there too many “red flags” that bring the word “caution” to mind?  If the ZBA is not sure that we will be protected can they vote yes?  If the ZBA will not know if this proposed facility is safe until it is built – can they vote yes?  From my perspective, there are way too many red flags to approve!


Carol M. Patnode

Mason City


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