NORTH SALEM, N.Y. - Students in North Salem schools were kept inside for recess and other activities on Wednesday and Thursday last week because of “blowdown”–or the smell of natural gas—from the Algonquin Gas Transmission in Southeast.
Christian DiPolermo, the government liaison for Algonquin Gas, said the smell came from venting the pipeline on Turk Hill in Southeast, about a mile and a half from the North Salem schools. DiPolermo said the smell comes from mercaptan, an additive in natural gas that makes it easier to detect.
The principals of the North Salem schools sent a letter to parents the morning of Wednesday, April 11, notifying them that several staff members caught wind of the odor and called the Croton Falls Fire Department to investigate. Gas meter readings in both buildings were negative throughout the morning and afternoon.
Some parents were upset that they weren’t notified sooner of the smell, but Superintendent Ken Freeston said because the pipeline is in Southeast, the company does not legally need to notify the towns and schools about when venting will happen.
“Algonquin provides information only where the pipeline goes through, and it’s not in North Salem,” said Freeston. “They do not provide (Supervisor) Warren Lucas with any direct information.”
In December, residents gathered in the auditorium of the North Salem Middle/High School to hear details about the compressor station in Southeast and many left concerned for the safety of their children at the nearby schools.
Dr. David Brown, with the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project, called the blowdowns “major, high-risk events” during a presentation on the pipeline for residents in December.
Mary Lee Hanley, a representative of Algonquin Gas, said the compressor stations are highly regulated and meet rigorous standards established by the Federal Regulatory Commission.
At no point during the venting was there any sign of actual gas at the schools, Lucas said, just the smell of gas because of the direction of the wind.
“The wind was just going the right way and hit both schools,” Lucas said.