New air pollutant 'discovered': Biomass industry and fire targeted for extinction?

The Obama administration has conveniently discovered a new air pollutant emitted by biomass burning. There can be no doubt that the purpose of this study is to smear/stop biomass as means of generating electricity.

Here’s the media release of the study publisbhed in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences:

Biomass fires produce smoke containing isocyanic acid (HNCO), a chemical that has been linked to chronic diseases such as cataracts and rheumatoid arthritis, according to a study. James Roberts and colleagues conducted laboratory and field measurements of HCNO concentrations found in ambient air in Los Angeles, and emitted from tobacco smoke, laboratory biomass fires, and wildfires in Boulder, CO. According to the authors’ measurements, atmospheric HNCO represents a potential threat to human health, one that is largely unexamined and unregulated. Isocyanates are known to be toxic at high concentrations, and exposure to these compounds in the workplace is tightly regulated. However, the health consequences of HNCO pollution due to large-scale biomass burning, such as wildfires near urban areas or increases in biofuel and coal usage, are poorly understood. The authors also report that HNCO is emitted by urea-selective catalytic reduction systems that are currently being phased in by the U.S. and the European Union to limit diesel emissions. As some 3 billion people burn biomass to cook food and heat their homes, it is imperative that researchers better understand the extent and effects of atmospheric HNCO exposure on human health, according to the authors.

HNCO is such a “potential threat to human health” that no one has ever noticed, let alone worried about it before. (Remember when EPA dreamed up the indoor radon scare in the 1980s?)

While the lab tests in this study detected HNCO at up to 600 parts per billion by volume, HNCO was only found at up to 200 parts per trillion by volume in Los Angeles. So the lab tests reported HNCO levels 3,000 times greater than those detected in Los Angeles — and there is no evidence that ambient HNCO has ever harmed anyone in Los Angeles or anywhere else.

It’s absurd that the authors claim a “possible link” to health effects when they have no evidence any have actually occurred.

This study would be a total “Who cares?” except that the biomass industry is locked in mortal combat with the Obama administration over the issue of greenhouse gas emissions. The industry views biomass as a “clean” fuel (i.e., no “extra” carbon dioxide emitted), while the EPA is loathe to annoint biomass with that status as it would green light biomass as a fuel source.

Now that biomass has been saddled with allegations of “potentially health-threatening emissions,” the EPA will no doubt “be forced” into not “rushing to judgment” about the safety of biomass.

And yes, the study was funded by the Obama administration (NOAA, National Science Foundation and USDA).

Given the study’s alarming language about combustion products, it appears that there are some among us who would give the secret of fire back to Zeus.

7 thoughts on “New air pollutant 'discovered': Biomass industry and fire targeted for extinction?”

  1. And so, what about wildfires? I guess they must be a clean form of biomass ignition. This is radical enviro gobbledy-gook meant to shut down the management of (especially) national forests. Why would the feds/politicians claim biomass from a national forest to not be considered biomass eligible for power generation, yet right across the property line on a non-federal forest you can utilize the biomass? Excessive amounts within the forest can easily be utilized.

  2. Uh, so…if I use a harmless atmospheric gas, like say CO2, to temporary store energy, and then release that energy to do work, like heat up some water…it’s not a “Green” energy?

    So let me get this straight – if the CO2 is never inside something that grows (i.e. a GREEN plant) then its “Green”, but if it cycle’s through something GREEN then it isn’t “Green” anymore? Do I have this right?

    Where’s my brandy?..I need my brandy…

  3. I’ve been in the environmental end of landfill-gas-to-electricity plants for a decade. The EPA actively supports this through its Landfill Methane Outreach Program (LMOP). However, for every person supporting something like this, the EPA has at least 5 doing their darnedest to stop it.

  4. Greens are all FOR “renewable energy”!!!!— Until someone tries to produce some. Try setting up a wind farm. Try to install a solar tower or solar field. (“It destroys the beauty of the area!!!”) Don’t even mention hydro-electric! Bio-mass was destined to make the “verbotten” list. Old Forester is right, “Wildfires are wonderful! They don’t destroy habitat, they don’t produce CO2 and don’t produce any other pollutants!”

  5. The ‘environmentalists’ apparently will not be satisfied with anything less than the extinction of all human life (the only way to prevent anthropgenic releases of greenhouse gases) and now all plant life (the only way to prevent wildfires that *naturally* release greenhouse gases), leaving all of PETAs ‘warm and fuzzy’ critters to starve to death.

  6. I once saw (and photographed) some yak “biomass” stacked like cord wood in front of homes in the high Nepal Himalaya.

    In fact this form of deadly HCNO-emitting “biomass” was ubiquitous in the region, and I’m sure the locals would benefit from some kind of “green” heating and cooking fuel such as ethanol derived from the local food staple of barley, which happily would remove the intermediate step of yak consumption and digestion (but of course deprive the people of a food staple).

    Not sure I can compute all of the CO2/HCNO/”black carbon” tradeoffs, but the Solo-Khumbu region would sure smell a lot better, to the great delight of the huge number of German trekkers in Nepal.


  7. How many more trace gases can be discovered in smoke? I am sure we can weasel out a few more, one at a time, to impede industry even more. Notice they say isocyanates are toxic at “high concentrations.” The last time I checked, 600 PPB was not considered a “high concentration.” Oh, brother!

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