Compressor station threatens Weymouth area’s health, safety
Spectra Energy-Enbridge is poised to build a polluting methane gas compressor station on the banks of the Fore River inWeymouth, in the most impoverished and environmentally degraded area between Boston and Plymouth. The station would be used to transport gas, extracted by hydraulic fracturing, through New England for sale overseas. The profits would accrue to Houston-based Spectra Energy-Enbridge, but the pollutants and safety hazards would stay here. Sadly, our state leaders have not stepped up to protect Massachusetts from this public health threat.
As leaders of Greater Boston Physicians for Social Responsibility – an organization with expertise in public health and emergency response – we are alarmed by the health and safety risks of this proposed facility. Compressor stations release a slew of dangerous air pollutants, including lung- and heart-damaging particulate matter and cancer-causing chemicals such as benzene and formaldehyde. These pollutants would be carried by prevailing winds directly into greater Boston.
Even the construction itself would release a surprising cocktail of hazardous substances – including arsenic, heavy metals and coal ash – because the station would be built on a former waste disposal site now covered by grass. These toxic chemicals are a threat to workers during construction and to first responders during any emergency events at the site. They also endanger nearby residents and could spread to Boston through the air and the adjacent bays.
Flammable and highly pressurized gas at the compressor station could explode and burn in a catastrophic fashion. Emergencies at compressor stations are not uncommon, and the commonwealth recently experienced disastrous explosions from gas distribution lines in the Merrimack Valley. The proposed site is in the middle of a densely populated community that includes many children, elderly and disabled residents, whose timely evacuation would be impossible given the limited access and escape routes. An explosion would also damage nearby sensitive facilities that could release pollutants, including a power plant that stores large quantities of diesel fuel, hydrogen gas and acids, and a key sewage pumping station for the region.
Siting this facility here is also unjust. The adjacent communities of Germantown and Quincy Point are designated “environmental justice” areas, meaning residents would suffer a disproportionate impact from polluting industrial development. People in those two communities already experience higher levels of lung cancer, coronary artery disease and respiratory disease than the state average.
Finally, the compressor station would accelerate climate change. Methane – an extremely potent greenhouse gas and the main component of what the industry markets as “natural” gas – would be routinely emitted and leaked from the compressor station. Massachusetts is already feeling the adverse health impacts of climate change, and they are projected to intensify. The U.S. government’s 2018 National Climate Assessment predicts that the Northeast will experience more illnesses, hospitalizations and deaths due to climate change. Meanwhile, sea level rise related to climate change threatens to flood the very site of the proposed compressor station.
For more than two years, we at Greater Boston Physicians for Social Responsibility have drawn attention to these serious health and safety risks. We have visited the site, met with local officials, participated in public meetings, published a report and met with the Department of Environmental Protection and the Department of Public Health. Our concerns about the health risks of compressor stations are shared by the Massachusetts Medical Society and more than 90 municipal boards of health. The Metropolitan Area Planning Council, which authored a recent health impact assessment of the proposed facility, opposes its construction.
Greater Boston PSR joins more than 20 state legislators, the mayors of the affected communities and the region’s congressional delegation in opposing this project. We call on Gov. Charlie Baker to show leadership in protecting the health of Massachusetts residents by denying Spectra Energy-Enbridge a coastal zone construction permit for this deeply flawed plan.
Anna Linakis Baker of Marshfield is executive director of Greater Boston Physicians for Social Responsibility and Dr. Regina LaRocque of Wellesley is a director.
ANNA LINAKIS BAKER AND DR. REGINA LAROCQUE