What I said on Beacon Hill re: Air Quality Monitoring Station, approximately

On July 9, 2019, I went to the State House to testify in favor of a bill which would install an air quality monitoring station at the Fore River Basin. Remarks were not recorded, and I handed in my original, marked-up, copy, and I do not know what happened to them once I gave them to the clerk. The text below represents what I had planned to say, and I don’t recall straying very far from this, though I know that I did cut some in order to keep to the time limit.
As a result of my testimony and that of many other residents and friends of the South Shore, the original bill H.2090, which was only going to require air monitoring stations at sites where new compressors were put in rather than establishing one at the Fore River Basin regardless of whether the compressor is installed, became emergency legislation H.4008, which will require the immediate installation of the much-needed air quality monitoring station at the Fore River Basin. H.4008 was voted out of committee on July 30, 2019, and passed by the House, and referred to the Senate Ways and Means committee on July 31st. No news since.
Note: The image accompanying this post is a photo of me and my son on the way to Beacon Hill to meet with South Shore legislators about the need for an Air Quality Monitoring Station two weeks priorto the day I gave testimony in the house. We went on a bus with a number of other South Shore residents. Everett had the time of his life.

Hello. I’m Melissa Smith. My husband and I are raising our family downwind of the Fore River Basin in Hingham, just about a mile outside what we on the South Shore refer to as the incineration zone—that radius around the proposed compressor site within which everyone would die a horrible death if the compressor were to blow up. I’m here today, because I have some concerns, and I’d like to understand why it is that MassDEP doesn’t seem to share them.

Nightmares of watching my neighbors burn to death aside, what I’m most concerned about is the air in the Fore River Basin. It’s really dirty. And dirty air causes diseases that nobody wants. Earlier this year, MassDEP published a Health Impact Assessment that shows the residents of the Fore River Basin suffer more respiratory, cardiovascular and pancreatic diseases and cancers than the rest of Massachusetts. Braintree, Weymouth and Quincy together represent the three highest incidents of diabetes among all 357 cities and towns of Massachusetts – a unheard of over 8% of their populations. That’s crazy. And what’s crazier is that we aren’t studying it more closely, and tracking pollutants in the air that might be causing higher levels of disease in the local population.

In the Fore River Basin, we have no air quality monitoring station. The closest one to our area is in Blue Hills, which is much too far away to provide any relevant measurement. Anyone can look out over the Fore River Bridge and see that the area is densely populated and already heavily industrialized. Tens of thousands of cars travel that half-billion-dollar bridge every day. Diesel-powered locomotives pass by on their way to Boston. Diesel-powered ships deliver oil to the tank farms nearby. In addition, the Fore River Basin has 11 major stationary sources of air pollution, all within a mile of each other, including a chemical plant with refracting towers, two electricity generating plants, a fertilizer plant, a gas metering station, an MWRA pumping station for all the sewage of the South Shore, two major fuel terminals, and three petrochemical tank farms. MassDEP granted air permits for at least 6 of these, so it’s not as though any of this is a revelation.

Beyond just looking, we know from science that the air is dirty. In 2017 and 2018, measurements were taken 2018 that showed clear violations of the Environmental Protection Agency’s National Ambient Air Quality Standards for eight (8) different dangerous chemicals including Acetaldehyde, Acrolein, Acrylonitrile, Benzene, 1,3 Butadiene, Carbon Disulfide, Formadehyde, and Toulene. These are chemicals that the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer, or IARC, calls Category 1, because they are carcinogenic to humans. These are the worst. They kill people, slowly and more painfully that just burning to death, while their friends and families watch. And we’re just expected to breathe this air on the South Shore, let our kids play soccer in this air, without taking regular measurements of what toxins we are inhaling, and without being able to hold anyone accountable for what the chemicals might do to our bodies.

MassDEP is the agency designated to protect the environment, and it seems to me that it’s failing to live up to its name. The sheer number of permits granted to heavy polluters suggests, if it doesn’t prove, abdication of its role as a protector of the air. This is disappointing, but even more disappointing for me is that they don’t seem to have any interest in even letting us know what might be killing us. I do not believe the air in the Fore River Basin can sustain an additional source of pollution, and I hope very much that we are able to avoid having a compressor station installed in North Weymouth. But regardless of whether we are successful in preventing the compressor from coming in, air as dirty as that in the Fore River Basin should at least be monitored, so that when be buy homes in the area, when we decide which businesses to invite to invest in our towns, when we send our kids outside on a hot summer’s day, we can do so with a much more complete understanding of what the effects of these actions might be. Regardless of whether we end up with a compressor station, and again, I sure hope we do not, we absolutely should be granted a permanent air quality monitoring station in the Fore River Basin. We need to know what we’re getting into. If we can’t trust our state agencies to protect us from businesses that intend to poison our air, we should at least know what we’re being poisoned with.

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