The town of Windsor, MA has been chosen as the site of one of the main pipeline compressor stations along the Northeast Energy Direct (NED) pipeline route proposed by Kinder Morgan. It is well known that compressor stations emit harmful substances into the air, including nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds, sulfur dioxide and particulate matter as well as a variety of solvents such as benzene, tolulene, xylene and trace amounts of other proprietary compounds.
Dr. Curtis Norgaard, a Boston pediatrician, and Dr. Sheila Bushkin-Bedient, a physician at Albany’s Institute for Environmental Health, spoke in Windsor on November 15, 2015 about the true hazards of compressor stations in relation to human health.
The EPA has set specific guidelines for the amount of each toxin allowed to be emitted from a compressor station. However, these levels are averaged out over an entire region and are much more concentrated in and around a given facility. In other words, the levels the compressor station actually emits are far above those to which humans should be exposed.
Dr. Norgaard skillfully distilled complex air quality science into understandable chunks to a packed audience of over 200 Windsor residents gathered at the Windsor Fire Station (Windsor’s total population is 900). He explained how tiny amounts of these off-gassing chemicals measured in parts per billion (ppb) can add up over time to levels known to cause major diseases, such as leukemia.
Dr. Norgaard touched on the issue of toxic chemicals emitted before and after combustion. Not only are the emissions harmful after they are burned, but they are toxic even before combustion. Pre-combustion emissions include methane, radon, and many volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) emitted from regular “blow-downs” of excess gases or from leaks (which are far from uncommon). The burning process, however, creates particulates that adhere to and aggravate human airways, the smallest of which enter our bloodstream. Burning also creates carbon monoxide and a slew of other toxic air pollutants regulated by the EPA.
Dr. Norgaard mentioned that he had reviewed many epidemiological studies conducted throughout the U.S. that correlate minute changes in particulate levels to thousands of additional occurrences of stroke, heart failure, respiratory illness and even death.
Although Kinder Morgan insists that their numbers meet federal safety guidelines – and in their pre-application documentation they have submitted thousands of pages related to each chemical and its effects – what Dr. Norgaard points out is that these are not the same numbers used to calculate actual physiological affects on humans, especially children, the elderly, and people already suffering from cardiac and respiratory disease. Both Dr. Norgaard and Dr. Bushkin-Bedient believe that anyone living within one to ten miles of the proposed compressor station would be at severe risk for asthma, cancers like leukemia, and other conditions.
Both physicians explained that Kinder Morgan’s numbers not only average out local and regional levels of toxins emitted, but also amounts emitted throughout a certain time period. But emissions actually occur in spikes, and during these spikes, there is a higher concentration of chemicals in the air. At these higher exposure levels, there is greater risk of worsening an existing health condition or creating a new illness. In the case of the proposed Windsor compressor station, the regional air quality standards may end up exceeding three times the allowable limit over a 24-hour period.
Dr. Norgaard also showed slides taken with infrared cameras that film the invisible emissions from compressor stations. One slide revealed a shocking 46 ppb being emitted from a valve, exceeding the safety threshold. Another slide showed a storage tank emitting released particulates at levels many times more than what was claimed on the application forms. At a distance of one-half mile from one compressor station in Pennsylvania, formaldehyde was measured at 50ppb, again exceeding the safety threshold.
The doctors warned that Kinder Morgan has been anything but transparent in its Open House presentations about what the compressor stations would really be emitting. Its employees repeatedly tell residents the station would be completely safe and fall within all EPA guidelines.
According to Dr. Norgaards’ research, the truth is that fugitive emissions could be in the range of 10 tons/year, plus 14 tons/year of VOC’s over a ten-year period.
Dr. Norgaard’s main point was that the EPA limits do not closely reflect actual human health risks. The closer you are to the compressor station, the worse the symptoms experienced. Both doctors agreed that many of these chemicals are known carcinogens and respiratory irritants, but that an even greater danger would come from their synergistic combinations, some of which have never before been tested on humans.
Clearly, individual and community health is not part of Kinder Morgan’s equations, despite the thousands of pages it has submitted for review. Though the company’s proposal as it stands does not appear to specifically violate EPA standards, the exposures will certainly severely affect people’s organs, tissues, and cells over time.
Dr. Norgaard said, “Personally, if I had this going through my neighborhood, I would be extremely distressed.” He believes that compressor stations are incompatible with human health, and he is trying to prevent a public health crisis of untold proportions.
Dr. Bushkin-Bedient told the audience that they, as physicians, are not alone in objecting to this impending crisis: they are joined by the New York Medical Society, which in May of 2015 adopted a resolution objecting to the building of compressor stations. In June of 2015, the American Medical Association requested a Comprehensive Health Impact Assessment on gas pipelines in the United States.
If you are concerned about this pipeline and accompanying compressor stations, 350Mass Berkshires invites you to take some of the following actions.
- Tell your legislators all across the state to Stop Kinder Morgan. Visit our Legislative Action page for more info. Find contact info for your legislator HERE.
- Watch the video of the presentation and pass this on to parents, teachers, doctors and other health professionals.
- Tell your legislators you want them to expand solar and other renewable energy sources for the same $5.5 billion dollars that would be spent building the NED pipelines and infrastructure (such as compressor stations) and destroying our air, our water and our health.
- Protest: attend a 350Mass Berkshires meeting and learn how you can stand up to this corporate abuse.
- Know your rights to clean air, clean water, and democratic process.