A silent threat


You’re wearing your squeaky shoes and right there taking a snooze is a tiger, so how do you walk on by?

Tom Lehrer said, “silently, silently, silent-ly,” explaining the use of “L-Y” in a song. Lehrer, a brilliant mathematician, wrote papers on “random walk” a statistical idea inspired by people who drink too much. Lehrer became an underground hero writing great satire songs.

Lehrer asks a relevant question. Tigers are known to kill, but the tiger is taking a nap and may not have heard your squeaky shoes. You could run, or turn around, or walk silently as Tom says. But tigers can pick up your scent if you panic, and Tom does not say what may happen.

The CDC released a report saying you can visit with friends as long as everyone has been vaccinated. But epidemiologists, the people who understand how COVID-19 mutates and spreads, say we are on the verge of another surge from a deadly variant. What are you going to do?

The silent killer

Air pollution may be worse than COVID-19. Epidemiologists know there is a causal relationship between air pollution and the virus.

Dr. Brian Moench, a passionate environmental justice advocate says, “Air pollution increases the transmissibility, severity, and lethality of COVID-19 because the virus can attach itself to air pollution particles. It then travels wherever that air pollution particulate matter goes.” Dr. Moench lives in Utah, one of several pollution inversion cities like Los Angeles and Santiago de Chile. The topography traps air pollution creating Hazardous Air Pollutants.

Arkansans blame the Koch brothers for air pollution and many other sins. I have never seen a Koch brother in Arkansas, but big polluters are welcomed. Short-term benefits “to create a handful of bad jobs” kill long-term benefits for all. Arkansas is a big polluter, near the top of the list of US states ranked by air pollution.

Sawdust and fine particulates

Sawmills have a sawdust problem measured in tons per year. Like fine particulate emissions from pellet mills, sawdust is measured in microns. The World Health Organization says there is no safe limit for fine particulates. Particulate matter (PM) 2.5 and sawdust 2.5 are deadly.

Imagine taking a yardstick to your woodshop and cutting it in half. You throw away one piece and cut the remaining piece in half again. If you keep cutting, you will end up with sawdust and a tiny sliver of wood. One yard is about one meter long, and one micron is one-millionth of a meter. Microns, known as particulates, are so small they are invisible to the naked eye. If you want to try this, make sure you wear safety glasses, gloves, and a proper face mask. OSHA has specifications for the type of masks for different types of wood.

You can’t just sweep sawdust “under the rug,” or vacuum it and dump it somewhere. Not a big deal for the yardstick experiment, but a huge headache for West Fraser, a large international corporation with three Arkansas sawmills in Leola, Russellville and Bearden. What can they do with tons of sawdust?

West Fraser sawmills

No one was supposed to find out what Drax Biomass and West Fraser want to do in Arkansas. Drax plans to build “parasite” mills to use sawdust as feedstock, creating stationary sources of mega-pollution from the combined emissions. People on the death path will never know who killed them. DEQ pretends pollution from nearby facilities, the topography and air flows are irrelevant. DEQ is what the Department of Environmental Quality used to be.

In my appeal to stop “Arkansas BioEnergy” you may have seen my surprising response to the DEQ air pollution permits granted to Drax Biomass.

Primum non nocere

“First, do no harm” is the basis for my appeal on behalf of the marginalized minorities at higher risk of dying of COVID-19 with the Arkansas Pollution Control and Ecology Commission, Docket 21-002-P.

What I found is hard to believe, Arkansas forests are measured in acres, but sawdust and fine particulate pollution are measured in deaths. Environmental justice is not negotiable.

Dr. Luis Contreras


  1. In explaining the connection between air pollution and COVID-19, Dr. Moench stated, “Air pollution increases the transmissibility, severity, and lethality of COVID-19 because the virus can attach itself to air pollution particles. It then travels wherever that air pollution particulate matter goes.”

    Serious COVID is the inflammation of the blood vessels. This is what air pollution does in the body as well.

    Exposure to chronic air pollution means exposure on a regular basis.

    Harvard epidemiology studies confirm PM 2.5 air pollution increase COVID-19 mortality

    Why would the Arkansa Department of Environmental Quality choose to increase air pollution from the 3 Drax Biomass pellet mills and the West Fraser sawmills?


  2. The U.S. Forest Rocky Mountain Region, postponed all prescribed fires due to the conditions that exist during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Acting Regional Forester Jennifer Eberlien made the decision after an assessment was conducted that evaluated risks to employees and the public, as well as the ability to mitigate the risks.

    She consulted with Fire and Aviation Management staff, a leadership group of line officers, and members of the region’s Type 1 Incident Management Team.


  3. U.S. Forest Service Firefighter Jason Phillips, traveled to Colorado in mid-August to battle the Cameron Peak Fire, and first reported feeling ill during an overnight shift on Aug. 25, 2020

    Phillips went to the emergency room, he tested positive and was admitted to the intensive care unit.

    Phillips was then placed on a ventilator and says doctors told him he had a 50-50 chance of surviving. He was removed from the ventilator after 39 days and two more negative COVID-19 tests.

    Four months after his arrival in Colorado, Phillips remains in the hospital on supplemental oxygen recovering from the virus. He said being in a coma for 39 days affected his ability to walk, and that COVID-19 is the worst type of injury he has suffered in 25 years of firefighting

    The US forest service halted prescribed fires – a major source of PM 2.5 – to stop the spread of the pandemic


  4. March 13, 2021 – A former vice chairman of the United Nations’ climate advisory body has called on the British government to review its policies surrounding the burning of wood for energy.

    Jean Pascal van Ypersele, Professor of Environmental Sciences at Université Catholique de Louvain in Belgium, stated “subsidies given to the industry by the UK government are “contradictory” to the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement – signed by countries in 2015 to try to limit global warming”


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