(For a more complete critique
The following letter is from the EPA commenting on a draft report concerning the Emergency Response Plan that is Pacific Geothermal Ventures is required to have in place and approved in order to have a permit to operate their (nominal) 35 Megawatt geothermal powerplant. Its primary point is that HYDROGEN SULFIDE, especially, as well as RADON 222 and other toxins are a major danger to the people near the plant.
In the case of a major blowout, where there is massive release of geothermal gases to the open air, the LETHAL Radius around the PGV plant has been estimated at between 4 1/2 and 8 1/2 Miles!
Hydrogen Sulfide (H2S) is now fully documented as a toxin as deadly as CYANIDE (CN). Hydrogen Sulfide at 0.5 Parts Per Billion, has been shown to cause embryological defects. With chronic, low level exposures, it is a systemic toxin with cumulative effects, especially on the nervous system.
Since one of its first sign effects is to anesthetize the nose, so the "rotten egg" of H2S can be easily missed. In higher doses, even this warning is too little to necessarily protect you.
For example, during a recent "well cleaning", a cloud of gas came into Lani Puna Gardens, about 300-400 yards from the plant. Adrian Barber, sitting at the entrance to his office, suddenly wondered why the horizon was now vertical? He felt something on his shoulder and tried to brush it off.... it was the floor!
This is all the "warning" he got. Fortunately, he lived, yet the the H2S monitors during this event went OFF SCALE well above 675 parts per billion for 10 minutes, so we have little idea of the actual levels, although, they were certainly high. Mr. Barber displayed many classic textbook effects of H2S, such as dizziness, tintinitis, loss of memory, etc. etc.
Over the last 5 years, especially, H2S has been more publically recognized for its extreme toxicity. With the work of Dr. Marvin Legator, especially, on the public health aspects of long term, chronic, low-level exposure, we now know for certain that there are long-term, serious effects of H2S, even at low levels of exposure.
Years ago, H2S was left off the "toxic" lists, because its use is widespread, and it is industrially important, so there was a lot of pressure to reduce its toxicity rating. Now, this is likely to change.
The letter reproduced here shows this watershed change starting to occur.
We pray that H2S is re-listed as a toxic gas, and proper precautions exercised.
(Especially, since I am now staying at a location some 400 yards from the main PGV well-head.)
In addition to the H2S, there is also a high concentration of RADON222 in the source gasses coming out of the PGV wells.
One estimate of the levels of Radon given us is: 200,000 PicoCuries Per Liter.
Now, Radon is known to be present in basements, and cinderblocks, and there are serious efforts at abating this risk. According to these standards, if there are 3 or more PicoCuries of Radon, one should correct the situtation, or leave the area.
I estimate that the 200,000 PicoCurie levels would dilute somewhat before they reach our area, some 400 yards away, so that they would be reduced by about a factor of 5 at that range. This still leaves 40,000 picocuries of Radon in the air at our range.
EVEN IF the gases diluted a factor of 1000 by the time they reach Pahoa, or other areas of the island, such as Kapoho, Paradise Park, and Hawaiian Beaches, and Seaview (depending on the direction and speed of the wind), this still would leave 40 picocuries/liter in the air, and would be 10 times the level considered to be of concern.
H2S and Radon are heavier than air and collect in low areas, especially when the air is still, as it often is at night. If we walk to low lying areas about a quarter mile from the plant here at night, we can smell H2S, which means there are concetrations of some 20 parts per billion in the air.
H2S and Radon have affinity for each other, and "stick" together, so a mixture of H2S and Radon disperse more slowly than either alone.
This is an example of synergy - the existance of effects beyond those predicted from analysis of any one part of a system - emergent properties.
And this is just a start of the risk analysis from the PGV Geothermal Powerplant. We must also consider the lead, cadmium, arsenic, and other toxins in the raw geothermal gases which are being leaked into the air we breathe.
I will upload other letters and documents in the near future that detail what is happening here in Puna with regard to geothermal power and the toxic gassing of people that is one result.
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Updated June 7, 2000