Health & Wellness

Town to Urge DEC to Strengthen Gas Pipeline Regs

A map shows the path of the Algonquin pipeline as it cuts through Westchester and Putnam counties. Credits: Environmental Defense Fund

MAHOPAC, N.Y. - This week, the Carmel Town Board said it is likely to follow suit of some of its neighboring communities and pass a resolution that presses the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to adopt more stringent regulations that would reduce toxic emissions from natural gas facilities, including compressor, metering, regulating, and pigging stations and gas power plants.

Mahopac resident Jerry Ravnitzky approached the Town Board about passing the same or similar resolution, which was prompted by Enbridge’s Algonquin pipeline expansion project. Ravnitzky said that though the project is currently stalled in Somers, residents in the area still have plenty to worry about, health- and safety-wise.
“The pipeline and metering stations already exist; it’s not a question of if they are here—they are,” Ravnitzky told the board at its June 13 meeting. “But there is technology that could make them a lot safer than they are now. That is what it is about—to keep people healthier.”

Ravnitzky said there are new studies that indicate that pregnant women who live in the areas where toxic emissions from the blow-off from gas pipelines occur have a much greater chance of having problems with their offspring with things such as asthma or lower IQs and other developmental issues. He said the health committee of the Putnam Legislature approved the resolution and it will be brought up at a voting meeting of the entire Legislature at a later meeting.

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North Salem Supervisor Warren Lucas led the charge last month in urging other municipalities “interested in better air quality, concerned about climate change or simply want companies to play by proper rules that will better protect our families” to pass the resolution urging the DEC to adopt these tougher standards and regulations.
“Air without toluene, benzene and other carcinogens and contaminants is a right, not a luxury,” Warren said.

North Salem passed the resolution on May 8, followed by Somers on Thursday, May 10.

Somers has several metering stations within its boundaries, one of which is located within the Heritage Hills community.

In April, students were kept inside for recess in North Salem because of the smell while the Croton Falls Fire Department tested the air for gas.

Somers Supervisor Rick Morrissey explained that the “rotten egg” smell that drove everyone indoors in North Salem was caused by mercaptan, a harmless chemical that is added to natural gas to give it a detectable odor.

According to Suzannah Glidden and Amy Rosmarin, co-founders of the Stop the Algonquin Pipeline Expansion (SAPE), DEC and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) data show that natural gas infrastructures in New York State “emit millions of pounds of toxic chemicals each year including known carcinogens like benzene and formaldehyde.”

The young, elderly and people with respiratory and other chronic health problems are especially vulnerable to air pollutants, Glidden said in a press release.
Energy giant Enbridge Inc. purchased the pipeline from Texas-based Spectra Energy last year for $26.8 billion.

The pipeline expansion would allow more natural gas to flow from Pennsylvania to New England and into Canada. It runs through Rockland, Putnam and Westchester counties in New York.

It will remove a 50-year-old, 26-inch pipeline and replace it with a 42-inch one. So far, work has been done through Stony Point in Rockland, under the Hudson River, and past Indian Point, the aging nuclear power facility in Buchanan scheduled to be shuttered in 2021. Citing economic hardships for the communities surrounding Indian Point, some politicians are calling for a delay of the plant’s closure.

Opponents of the pipeline project say it is dangerously close to the plant, something that its owners, Entergy, has vigorously denied.

The Somers’ leg of the $3 billion expansion project has been on the shelf since last year.

Following the existing right-of-way, it would affect 2.5 miles of pipe from the Yorktown line, go through The Preserve, a housing development, and extend into Mahopac.
When the suspension was announced last year, Morrissey called it “good news” for residents, but warned that the pipeline plans are not dead and could be revived “two, three, four, five, six years from now.”

Opponents of the pipeline expansion project claim state regulations are “lax” and the National Ambient Air Quality Standards are “based on average population risks across a large area over a long period of time but do not address toxicity for residents living in close proximity who are subjected to high levels of chemical exposures especially during blowdown events.

A blowdown is the release of gas in order to relieve pressure in the pipe so that testing and maintenance can take place.

Glidden, citing Ona Papageorgiou, a DEC engineer, said the agency is planning to formulate new gas and oil sector air emissions regulations but has yet to announce and initiate the “public rule-making process.”

In response to the DEC’s interest in “stakeholder input,” however, a group of independent engineers, physicians and other experts has put together its list of recommendations.

Key among these, as reflected in the wording of the municipal resolution, as well, are the installation and use of specific emissions control technology, continuous air monitoring, 48-hour or greater advance blowdown notifications and strict enforcement of “best management practices and protocols.”

The resolution the Carmel Town Board is considering also calls on health and environmental officials to oversee a comprehensive, independent Health Impact Assessment (HIA) as outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and the National Academy of Sciences.

The resolution also calls for on-site verification of compliance and the state to include non-combustion emission sources and emission sources currently considered exempt by the DEC in the new regulations.

Organizations and advocates have written to Gov. Andrew Cuomo urging the state to adopt more stringent regulations called for in the resolutions.

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