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September 2001 Rant

"Hot Enough For You"

I'm sure you remember that week in August when the temperatures came close to reaching 100 degrees. I'm also sure you remember the code red ozone alerts on those days warning people not to go out unless they had to and to take care not to do anything to make the air worse.

On the hottest of those days it reached 99 degrees with a heat index of well over 100. It was not a day to do anything outside. You may have heard the old adage "Hot enough for you?" Well 99 degrees in the shade is not hot enough for APAC Virginia, Inc. The company sent its workers out to burn stumps on that day. APAC is a contractor for the Virginia Department of Transportation. I wonder how APAC got those green stumps to burn. Did they ring them with tires and then pour gasoline or kerosene on them? If they did then it is no wonder that people complained about the smoke.

Not only did APAC have employees burning debris on that day but on all three code red days. In fact those were the only code red days since 1999 in the Richmond area. The company was doing the burning in Goochland, which is not on the EPA hit list for air pollution. However the nasty smoke drifted into the area that is on the list for ozone and pollution problems. Burning is banned in the Richmond area in the summer to help reduce ozone levels. Apparently this company doesn't care that we may have to face things like emission testing of vehicles due to high ozone levels. They took the cheap way out. It's cheaper to burn than to load the stumps into a truck and haul them to a landfill. Chesterfield grinds tree parts into mulch and lets the county residents pick it up for free. That's a lot better than burning them and reducing air quality.

And just what kind of company sends its workers out to burn stumps and other trash on a 99 degree day after a code red alert was issued by DEQ asking people to take steps to reduce ozone? APAC did this on all three days. I wonder how the employees feel about heating things up on a day of record heat? The pay must be awfully good.

VDOT hired this company as a contractor and apparently VDOT had to say something to them about the burning. Thom Pander is a VDOT spokesman and he tried to defend the company. Thom stated "As we understand it, this type of burning has no impact on ozone anyway." Virginia's DEQ was quick to point out that Thom was, of course, wrong. A VDOT assistant commissioner has now said that VDOT is limiting mowing and fueling on code red days and is considering limiting construction on those days. Code red days are always on hot, humid days with no breeze and who wants to work outside on those days?

There has to be some common sense when it comes to doing anything. Burning trash and stumps on a code red day is just not a smart thing to do. VDOT and other state agencies must contract out certain jobs. Those agencies need to make sure the contractors exercise some common sense.

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