MAHA’s support helps protect health of Fairfield Harbour community

by Rachel McIntosh-Kastrinsky

“We couldn’t have accomplished this without [MAHA’s] invaluable insight, help, and support,” said Cindy Pellegrini.

In the summer of 2018, Medical Advocates for Healthy Air (MAHA) received a request for help from Cindy Pellegrini, a resident of Fairfield Harbour. The small community, located just outside New Bern, was planning to demolish the Shoreline Clubhouse, a community center that had fallen into disrepair. The Fairfield Harbour Board of Directors decided to set the center on fire for the demolition and partner with the local fire department as a training exercise.

Fairfield Harbour residents Cindy Pellegrini and Joe Schulties with Savvy (dog)

Pellegrini and her neighbor Joe Schulties were concerned about the health impacts from the fire given the building materials and its proximity to residential houses. Pellegrini reached out to MAHA for guidance on this issue. Alarmed at the prospect and implications for the community’s health, MAHA drafted a letter detailing the health impacts and urging the board to use mechanical demolition instead.

Controlled burns can lead to high levels of air pollutants, such as particulate matter, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), with significant health risks to surrounding communities. Particulate matter can be small enough to evade the body’s respiratory protections, enter deep into the lungs, and pass into the bloodstream to impact the cardiovascular system. VOCs and PAHs have been shown to cause eye, nose, and throat irritation; headaches, loss of coordination, and nausea; damage to the liver, kidneys, and central nervous system; and even cancer.

Smoke from the proposed burn would impact neighborhoods surrounding the burn site.

Retired emergency room physician and MAHA Advisory Board member, Robert Parr, D.O., also provided expertise and health guidance on the issue. Dr. Parr visited the site and discussed how wind patterns could impact how far the smoke from the burn could reach, along with the dangers of conducting a burn in such close proximity to residential neighbors. An avid citizen scientist and Clean Air Carolina AirKeeper, Parr with the help of his dog Savvy also took air quality measurements with his AirBeam, a low-cost particulate matter sensor, and promised to help Pellegrini install a PurpleAir sensor in the future.

When Hurricane Florence hit the area in 2018, everything got put on hold. That gave Cindy and Joe, MAHA, and other community advocates the time we needed to spread the word on the health risks of a controlled burn. Nearly two years later, the community decided against burning the community center, and will instead conduct a mechanical demolition.

This decision will protect the health of the people who live and work in Fairfield Harbour. MAHA is thrilled at this outcome and proud to have helped bring it about.

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