Commentary: Joining the Call for Pipeline Moratorium

The following post by  Dr. Brita Lundberg, a physician and GN board member, originally appeared on Wicked Local Newton on June 8, 2017. (See the post HERE)

Last Friday, the Newton Board of Health became the 20th in the state to call for a moratorium on new pipeline infrastructure in Massachusetts.

Newton joins the Massachusetts Medical Society, the American Medical Association, the Massachusetts Nurses’ Association and the Massachusetts Conservation Commissions in recognizing that there are potential health risks associated with this technology and calling for comprehensive human health impact assessments to define them.

Energy companies market “natural” gas as “clean” energy that our state will critically need. “It is time to change that narrative,” says Harvard Medical School professor Dr. Regina LaRoque.

This methane gas, extracted with hydraulic fracturing or “fracking,” is in fact neither clean nor necessary, according to LaRoque. Studies of populations living near oil and gas development have shown serious health consequences including an increased risk of leukemia and birth defects in children, premature deliveries, asthma, neurologic disease and memory loss.

A report issued by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey states that not only is increased gas capacity unnecessary to meet our state’s electric needs, but is also more expensive than other available options.

In addition, pipelines go against our own Department of Environmental Protection’s commitment to investing in efficient and renewable energy.

Thanks to the efforts of the Sierra Club, the people of Massachusetts have a unique opportunity to give voice to these spiraling health concerns. Sierra Club Chapter Director Emily Norton is spearheading a campaign to encourage local Boards of Health across the state to sign a letter to Governor Charlie Baker asking him to halt all pipeline projects until the health impact of these mammoth pipeline infrastructure expansions is better understood.

The Boston Public Health Commission voted unanimously to sign on to the letter on May 17.
Most people aren’t aware of the sheer magnitude these projects. In Acushnet, the gargantuan liquid natural gas (LNG) terminal being planned is breathtaking in size: according to our Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, the two tanks, each 17 stories high and the length of Gillette stadium, represent “one of the largest proposed wetlands alterations in the history of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.”

Like the West Roxbury Lateral Metering and Regulating station, it will be situated within two miles of a couple of elementary schools, a middle school, and a nursing home.

Children are disproportionately affected by the carcinogens and toxins released, which include, among others, benzene, mercury, lead, particulate matter, and radioactivity.
No matter where you live, chances are that you find yourself near a gas leak, where these toxins may also be emitted. According to Boston University professor Nathan Phillips, there is a gas leak roughly every mile in Boston; in Newton, we have 480 of them. So under the wrong weather conditions, these carcinogens may be arriving on our doorsteps.

It is gratifying that Newton is joining the Boston Public Health Commission and many others Boards of Health in the state in drawing attention to this important issue. As Dr. Deborah Youngblood states in her letter to Governor Baker, “We respectfully request that a full, independent public health impact study be completed and widely shared prior to any new gas pipelines being considered in the Commonwealth… While… our legislators and governor may differ in their views [of this infrastructure]… they are unanimous in their commitment to promote and protect the public health, welfare and safety of the residents of the Commonwealth.

It is a positive step toward letting go of outdated technologies and embracing renewable solutions.