Saturday, November 7, 2009

Greenfield residents sold down the river-- or should I say sewage line?

"If you wouldn't want to drink it, why would you want to breathe it?"  That very reasonable question by a Greenfield resident to the Greenfield Appointment and Ordinance Committee at a public hearing last Monday summed up the concerns of the 100 people in the Greenfield Middle School auditorium..

Greenfield is one of the three communities targeted for the development of biomass plants, Governor Patrick's newest, one-size-fits-all solution to Massachusett's energy needs. Biomass developer Matthew Wolfe's original proposal called for the plant to purchase water from the municipality to dissipate heat from its incinerator.

Now Wolfe wants to purchase partially-treated waste water from the town instead. Gotta keep those costs down, you know? The waste water would be pumped uphill to the plant.

Not one of the residents of Greenfield, many of whom were medical and scientific experts, spoke in favor of this idea.

First, there's the pathogens that might be emitted-- viruses and bacteria that abound in partially treated water. But even assuming that most of them would be destroyed in the heating process, that leaves everything else. A 2005 survey of drinking water in 42 states by the Environmental Working Group found 141 unregulated chemicals and an additional 119 for which the Environmental Protection Agency has set health-based limits, including disinfection byproducts, nitrates, chloroform, barium, arsenic and copper. CommonDreams.

Two categories of chemicals were of particular concern to Greenfield residents: antibiotics and endocrine disruptors.  The dangers of antibiotic overuse are becoming better-known: we get resistant to antibiotics and so do the pathogens.  Endocrine disruptors, which are both hormones and those chemicals which mimic hormones, are less well-known to the public, although biologists are aware of their effect on sexual reproduction on amphibians and fish.  Nicholas Kristof's column, It's Time to Learn From Frogs, details some of the effects already taking place in humans, and it's scary reading.

In the end, after receiving page after page of testimony against the use of waste water for cooling, the
Greenfield Appointment and Ordinance Committee did the only thing they could do-- they approved Wolfe's request.  The chairman of the board tried to get the decision put off for a week so it could be studied, but none of the other three had the guts-- or the intelligence-- to second the motion.

It's not all over for Greenfield residents, who continue organizing against this incinerator and who have a number of legal strategies in play.  We in Springfield, however, had almost almost lost the battle against the incinerator proposed for our community before we even knew knew about the war.  Our incinerator, proposed by Palmer Renewable Energy, will burn mostly construction and demolition wood, contaminated with arsenic, lead, mercury and other toxic chemicals.  We're late in the day getting started, but I don't believe we're too late.  Check out the website for our organizing efforts, Say NO to Construction and Debris Incineration.

Photo from Aliwest44's photostream at Flickr.


EcoTerra said...

Risks and Unanswered Questions:

The following questions concerning the chemical fog that will be produced by the sewage water wet-cooling process to be used at the Greenfield incinerator were submitted to the City of Greenfield during permit hearings and are in the public record, but were never addressed. These same questions were submitted to the MA DEP in July 2006. The DEP has never responded. The refusal to address these questions implies an intentional and willful disregard for protection of public health.

1. What Pharmaceuticals, Personal Care Products, Endocrine Disrupting Compounds, or other Volatile Organic Compounds will be discharged into the air by the use of reclaimed sewage effluent for wet cooling at this incinerator?

2. What is the effect on the above compounds from chlorination during the disinfection process?

3. What disinfection products will be produced and what compounds will be discharged to the air during the wet cooling process employing reclaimed sewage effluent?

4. What is the effect of heating the above compounds (Personal Care Products, Endocrine Disrupting Compounds, other Volatile Organic Compounds, Chlorine disinfection byproducts) to the high temperatures encountered during the wet cooling process?

5. What is the total amount of these compounds that will be emitted every day by the wet cooling process, assuming that 555 gpm of reclaimed water will be volatilized or nebulized? What is the expected fall-out zone for these compounds?

6. What are the health impacts to citizens, wildlife, and the environment from the constant discharge of Personal Care Products, Endocrine Disrupting Compounds, other Volatile Organic Compounds, and Chlorine disinfection byproducts to the air from the use of reclaimed sewage effluent for wet cooling of the biomass incinerator?

7. Are any of the above compounds known to cause or exacerbate any medical conditions such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart disease, lung diseases, or other commonly occurring disorders? What are the acute risks associated with inhalation of these compounds?

8. What are the long-term health and other impacts associated with inhalation and exposure to these compounds on vulnerable populations such as pregnant women, babies, the elderly, and persons with chronic diseases or compromised immune systems?

9. What are the synergistic effects that can be expected from exposure to multiple compounds?

10. What are the effects of sunlight and ultra-violet radiation on these compounds and are they subject to photo-reactive modification or synthesis?

Concerned citizens have repeatedly requested public officials to address these points at public hearings. Some members of the Town Council even stated in public that they were very concerned and some even claimed that they were personally scared by the potential for impacts to public health from the inhalation of contaminants in sewage effluent, but in the end, all approvals were rubber-stamped without addressing a single one of the issues raised by these questions.

Leverett, MA
Soil Scientist, BS, MS
Massachusetts Registered Sanitarian #1318
Massachusetts Certified Health Officer #375
MA Certified Public Water Supply Facility Operator, Grade VS #7693
MA Certified Municipal Wastewater Treatment Plant Operator, Grade 2-M WI #14897
MA DPH CLPPP Certified Code Enforcement Lead Determinator #D3783
NSPF Certified Pool / Spa Operator CPO #01-208637

MoonRaven said...

I only lived in Greenfield for a year (1982-1983) but I have a fondness for the town and love to visit it. This makes me so sad and outraged--especially when everyone spoke against it and yet the committee approved the request! This makes no sense at all.

I am so sorry to hear this.

I wish you luck with your work down in Springfield against the biomass plant. It's good to hear that people are organizing against it but sad to hear that companies are trying to build so many of these incinerators.