Saturday, April 9, 2011

Tell it like it is: are we getting a health study or not?

Guess I've reached my bullshit quota for the week.

This afternoon I went to Holyoke to hear Public Health Commissioner John Auerbach present one of his regional health dialogues on new directions in public health.   I was going to wait until after the presentation to catch up with him and ask him a question: when was the DPH going to do the Health Impact Assessment (HIA) for which it had received funding nearly a year ago?  I haven't been able to get an answer from my contacts at the Environmental Health Bureau of DPH, and the clock is ticking-- the biomass incinerator we're trying to stop is only two months away from getting its air permit.

After Auerbach finished his presentation and called for questions, an older woman stood up and I recognized her right away as Jean Caldwell; in fact I'd just heard her give a statement at Tuesday's Dept. of Environmental Protection air permit hearing..  She doesn't come to meetings of Stop Toxic Incineration in Springfield, but has become very engaged in this issue since our first phone conversations, doing her own research, contacting public officials and writing letters to the newspaper. 

She gave him a  overview of Tuesday's hearing, and mentioned a plant in Connecticut which required zero emissions from a proposed plant before they would approve it.  She said that while she recognized DPH had no authority over decisions made by DEP, what could they do to help us?  Possibly a Health Impact Assessment?

Auerbach had started nodding during Jean's presentation, showing he was familiar with Springfield's situation.  He began his answer by agreeing she was right about the relationship between DEP and DPH.  He then said  that as she knew, DPH had suffered substantial budget cuts.  DPH had the resources to provide existing data, but if she was thinking about focus groups, community input, anything in-depth, they just didn't have the money.  Of course he took about two minutes to say this, while my blood started to boil.  We have been depending on this study, and even though suspicion has been building up that it just wasn't going to happen, we've been trying to keep faith.

When he finished, I stood up, not waiting for him to call on me.

"Excuse me, that's not correct," I said, and introduced myself.  "DPH received a grant from Pew Charitable Trust to do this study and we have been waiting for it to begin.  I know it had to be reconfigured after the plant decided to burn green wood instead of construction and demolition debris-- but that was five months ago, and I'm not getting my phone calls to Suzanne Condon answered about when the study will start."

"Yes, we did get that grant," he said, "but that was for a different project."

"Why don't you just ask Suzanne to call me," I said, picked up my notebook, and left.  I could tell I might really lose it if I stayed any longer.  I wasn't yelling but I know my anger showed.  Mr. Auerbach did more than dissemble when he didn't tell Jean that DPH actually had a grant for the study. 

I probably now will get a call from Suzanne Condon, and I'm sure she won't be happy.   But I think we deserve the truth.  This has not been an easy week for any of us who are fighting this plant.  We've had rogue labor booing us, bureaucrats dissembling, and corporados cheerleading with their cynical  "clean and green"  mantra.  But we've had our resolve hardened and we're getting ready for whatever comes next.  Want to get involved?  Call Arise and leave a message for Stop Toxic Incineration in Springfield.

Graphic from Tomas Brechler's photostream at Flickr.


cbarcelos said...

Michaelann- if you haven't yet, you should connect with the Umass school of public health. We have a bunch of master's students who need summer internships- it's not what should have been funded, but a student could help with this work.

Michaelann Bewsee said...

Thanks for the tip, Christie!