By: Lacy Hilliard
When citizens of Watauga County, North Carolina were faced with the opening of an asphalt plant in their community, they took action.
Maymead, Inc., a company based in Mountain City, Tennessee, proposed the construction of the plant, which was to be located off U.S. Highway 421 South between Boone and Deep Gap.
In addition to a lack of pleasing aesthetics, concerned citizens also cited environmental concerns as the driving force behind the desire to cull the project. According to members of W.A.T.C.H. (Wataugans Against Toxins Close to Homes), the asphalt plant could potentially have posed health risks to citizens residing close to the proposed location. A driving force for their concerns is that the plant would be located in close proximity to Parkway Elementary School, thereby exposing children to what members of W.A.T.C.H. say are harmful pollutants.
The smokestacks of asphalt plants emit potentially carcinogenic and/or environmentally unfriendly materials such as hydrogen sulfide, benzene, chromium, arsenic, formaldehyde, hexane, phenol, polycyclic organic matter, and toluene. However, those groups in support of asphalt plants, such as N.A.P.A. (the National Asphalt Pavement Association) are quick to remind residents that the harmful by products remain at government mandated levels deemed safe. Supporters also tout the creation of jobs as a positive aspect of asphalt plants.
A review of the potential toxins associated with asphalt plants brings a laundry list of harmful side effects. According to one environmental group, Exposures to high concentrations of hydrogen sulfide may result in respiratory distress, pulmonary edema, nervous system depression, neurobehavioral effects, tissue hypoxia, cardiovascular effects, unconsciousness and death. Exposure to lower concentrations of hydrogen sulfide can result in less severe neurological and respiratory effects such as a lack of coordination, loss of smell, nasal symptoms, sore throat, cough, and dyspnea.
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