Longwood Must Eliminate Second-Hand Smoke From Heating Plant

Published 3:43 pm Thursday, March 22, 2012

Longwood University's own website contains this statement of the university's purpose and intent regarding its virtual elimination of smoking on campus:

“It is the objective of Longwood University to provide the healthiest environment possible. The new policy is designed to promote healthy lifestyles as well as to protect students, faculty and staff from secondhand smoke…

“…Both the U.S. Surgeon General and the American Medical Association have stated in the strongest terms that smoking is the leading cause of premature death and disability in this country. In addition, research has shown that nonsmokers with chronic heart or lung disease can experience severe distress when exposed to a sufficient concentration of secondhand or ambient smoke. Many allergic individuals and even healthy nonsmokers report discomfort to secondhand smoke. Recent medical studies indicate that long-term exposure to involuntary smoking may increase nonsmoker's risk of developing severe lung disease.”

Email newsletter signup

Clearly then, Longwood University understands the need to prevent the secondhand smoke of its heating plant from filling Farmville streets and lungs. This is a serious issue that demands a permanent solution and the university's follow-up response last week points to Longwood's intention to solve the problem.

The university apologized in a March 14 statement and said it had notified the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality about the problem and “has outlined an action plan to correct the issue.” In addition, LU stated, “consultants from two outside firms are thoroughly examining the heating plant to determine the problems that may be contributing to the smoke issue.”

Farmville Town Council member and Main Street merchant Tommy Pairet told fellow council members during their March 7 work session about two customers who came into his store and “literally had their coat over their face because the smoke was so strong that they said they were having problems breathing.”

That's not downtown revitalization.

There was so much smoke that week that some people thought there was a fire in Farmville, according to Town Manager Gerald Spates and Town Council member Dr. Edward I. Gordon.

Indeed, driving into Farmville one morning that week from the west I was also convinced there was a major fire and looked for it until, turning onto North Street, I could see the smoke was coming from Longwood's heating plant.

The smoke from Longwood's heating plant is not acceptable. Nobody should have to breathe so much second-hand smoke.

Students, staff and faculty are extremely restricted in where they smoke on campus at Longwood University. Not a puff is allowed in any building and there are only small designated areas for smoking outside.

So, yes, it's ironic that Longwood University, itself, has been the source of so much smoke across so much of Farmville. The heating plant is state-of-the-art. The emission levels should be state-of-the-art. We should not notice them at all.

In an official statement on March 7 responding to The Herald about the smoke, Longwood explained that “the smoke that people in downtown Farmville and on the Longwood University campus may have noticed earlier this week was the result of a batch of wet sawdust that inadvertently was mixed into the fuel stream of Longwood's heating plant. When this happens, some smoke is emitted as a result.”

Smoke from Longwood's heating plant had been noticeable prior to that week.

The statement added, “Longwood has procedures in place to lower the probability of wet sawdust being introduced into the heating plant's fuel stream, and the university is continuously working to improve those procedures. However, the sawdust must be stored outdoors, where it is subject to rain and other precipitation.”

Cover it. Don't pray for a drought. If damp, uncovered sawdust is indeed even a part of the problem, the answer is obvious. Cover it.

The university's three-paragraph statement that week also contained a paragraph noting that approximately 80 percent of Longwood's energy comes from burning sawdust, a renewable and cost-effective energy source. “Annual savings for Longwood – and therefore the taxpayers of the Commonwealth of Virginia – from burning sawdust instead of fuel oil are substantial, and amounted to $2.8 million in the 2010-11 fiscal year,” the statement declares.

Frankly, so what.

“King Tobacco” was a cash crop but there was the little matter of a warning label on the side of cigarette cartons.

Saving the Commonwealth of Virginia $2.8 million last year, or any year, is not worth anyone in Farmville breathing in smoky emissions from Longwood's heating plant.

That $2.8 million is about $2.66 per person living in Virginia, by the way.<br />
Our health is worth more than $2.66 per person.

And certainly Longwood University, everyone at Longwood University, agrees. The university seems intent on providing a long-term answer that everyone can live with. Longwood employees working at the heating plant are good people dedicated to doing their jobs to the best of their ability. Provide them with what's required and they'll get the job done.

Town Council member Dr. Gordon is a physician. LU's new nursing department is largely the product of his immense generosity to Longwood. And Dr. Gordon is a member of Longwood University's Board of Visitors. Dr. Gordon, like all of us, respects the university. His perspective carries weight on this issue.

Longwood, he told Town Council during its March work session, talks “about that smoke being more or less what they want to call clean smoke…But that kind of smoke is going to be an irritant to the lungs of people with respiratory problems, even if it doesn't contain the sulfur and stuff like that. So it does need to have a dispersal with it. So I think we need to ask Longwood…for some kind of a statement. I am hearing quite a bit about it and I think we need to do something. It affects the town. You walk into town, or come into the town and it's not going to be good for the town or the college.”

And Dr. Gordon said, “I feel like something's wrong…We probably ought to get some statement from Longwood on if (the heating plant) is functioning correctly, because if it is functioning correctly we've got a problem…”

And all of us, including Longwood and her faculty, staff and students, will need a solution. No matter what.

“We apologize for the recent unintentional episodes of smoke that have caused uncomfortable conditions throughout parts of the town,” Dick Bratcher, Longwood's vice-president for facilities management and real property, stated in the March 14 release.

Apology accepted.

Expectations engaged.

Longwood University's own declaration of its intent to “provide the healthiest environment possible” absolutely must extend beyond the campus in the Town of Farmville to the men, women and children of all ages who breathe its air.

Emissions from the university's heating plant have failed to meet that standard.

We trust that will change.

We believe that it must.

We have faith that it will.