Drax in talks to meet with pollution campaigners concerned about US wood pellet facilities
Drax operates pellet plants across multiple locations in the US, which create wood pellets such as those burned at its Selby power station.
The concerns relate to issues surrounding dust emitted from the plants on neighbouring towns, as well as the effects of Volatile Organic Compounds, a class of pollutant, also emitted from the facilities.
It comes after the Mississippi Department for Environmental Quality imposed a $2.5 million fine on Drax in 2021 for breaching air pollution rates at its facility in Gloster, Mississippi.
Last year, Greenpeace’s Unearthed reporting unit also found that Drax Biomass had agreed to settlements totalling $3.2 million for claims against two of its Louisiana sites.
Drax denied that it committed any violations at the plants, and agreed to the settlements without accepting liability. The settlements relate to claims dating back to 2019.
In response to recent concerns, a Drax spokesperson told The Yorkshire Post: “Drax is committed to being a good neighbour and the safety of our people and the communities where we operate is our priority.
“Our investment in Mississippi supports hundreds of jobs in forestry, logging, and trucking, in addition to the hundreds of jobs already created at our Mississippi pellet mill in Gloster. We met with the individuals who raised their issues at the AGM to address their concerns and are making plans to meet again in the near future.”
Amongst those raising concerns at Drax’s AGM was Dr Krystal Martin, a former resident of Gloster who campaigns on issues affecting the area. Speaking to The Yorkshire Post, Dr Martin said: “We have a lot of people dealing with asthma - we have upper respiratory issues they're dealing with.
“My mother who will be 75 this year, she has lived her entire life in that community, and now she has been diagnosed with asthma. So that's an ongoing issue that she's dealing with - a lot of breathing issues - people are on different machines all of a sudden in that community.”
Patrick Anderson, an attorney with Powell Environmental Law, who has worked on cases involving pollution at Drax’s pellet facilities, said: “It's pretty universal when we talk to these communities that if you live near one of these plants, you’re constantly going to have your property covered in soot and fine dust and be breathing it.”
Dr Martin also described watching the sawdust “pour down like rain” in Gloster.
But in a statement provided by Drax, Gloster Mayor Jerry Norwood said: “In addition to creating much-needed jobs for the area, Drax’s operations have provided a financial stimulus that benefits the entire community. Because of Drax’s impact, we’ve been able to upgrade water and gas meters, enhance city services, replace a 40-year-old generator at the water plant and hire new town employees.”
Drax’s operations will contribute more than $80 million to Mississippi’s GDP this year, it has been estimated.
The firm has also partnered with the Federation of Southern Cooperatives in a move it says will drive equal access management opportunities for minority and underserved land owners.
In a statement supplied by Drax, Joseph Parker of Mississippi’s Scenic Rivers Alliance said: “Drax is a welcomed business and industry leader here in Southwest Mississippi.
"Leadership at Drax is regularly engaged in discussions with local and state officials on how to cooperatively benefit each other from an environmental and economic standpoint.
“Drax is a perfect fit for our state and an extremely valuable resource to our local communities.”
In 2022, Drax commissioned three new pellet plants in the US.
Rita Frost, campaigns director at Dogwood Alliance, a US-based environmental nonprofit organisation which has worked with communities where pellet facilities are present, said that wood pellet facilities had historically been located in low income communities. She said: “It's hard for them to say ‘not in my back yard’, because these are communities that have historically been polluted, and have historically had very little political clout.”