Education

Potential danger blowin’ in the North Salem wind?

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Dr. Sunjit Joginpally outlines the health risks posed to residents living in proximity to compressor stations. Credits: Photo: Jeremy Brown
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NORTH SALEM, N.Y.- Residents who gathered in the auditorium of the North Salem Middle/High School to listen to speakers from the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project (EHP) wanted to know one thing: Is the new compressor station in Southeast, located in the village of Brewster on Tulip Road just off of Dingle Ridge, bad news?

Possibly. Representatives of EHP on Dec. 11 came prepared to discuss the results of an extensive report on the chemical and particulate emissions of the 18 largest compressor stations in New York State. The report, which they shared with a crowd of around 60 people, documents the impact the emissions could have on the health of residents who live in the vicinity of the stations. The Southeast compressor station, one of many such stations on the country’s pipeline grid that maintain the flow of natural gas to homes, was included.

Construction on the station began in October 2015 and it officially became operational in January. It is a Title V facility, meaning that, under the Clean Air Act, it is a “major source” of potential air pollutants. There are 60 such compressors in New York State.

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“These Title V compressors, over the past seven years, have emitted an estimate of more than 40 million pounds of chemicals,” said Dr. Celia Lewis of the EHP.

Of those 40 million pounds, the Southeast station is responsible for approximately 2 million since becoming operational, she added.

Some of the compressor stations in New York are located in remote areas, thereby lessening the potential hazards. But others, such as the one in Southeast, are located in more populated regions and, as a result, present a greater risk.

“The larger the population, it means that there is a greater chance of there being more sensitive individuals who might be susceptible to these exposures,” Lewis said. 

This risk of exposure to harmful chemicals was the main reason for the large turnout at the school, and the EHP noted that it was the primary concern of all residents who live in proximity to compressor stations.

“That’s really the key piece of information that everybody asks us at every site that we look at,” said Dr. David Brown, who also worked on the report for the EHP. “Am I safe?’ “

The report examined the emissions of these stations and their effects on the respiratory, central nervous, cardiovascular and circulatory systems. It also addressed the dangers of “blowdowns,” times when a pipeline is vented of gas to allow it to be safely worked on.

“Blowdowns are definitely major, high-risk events,” said Brown. “People need to know about them. In some cases in Pennsylvania, people actually leave their houses when a blowdown is happening.”  
Residents at the meeting asked what they can do to help prevent exposure to harmful emissions from the station.

“The best thing you can do is minimize exposure by using air filters,” said Dr. Sujit Jonginpally. He noted that these filters are especially useful when residents are sleeping.

“When you sleep,” he explained, “your breathing slows down, so you are much more prone to being exposed to those chemicals while you’re sleeping. Having filters running inside your home will help prevent exposure.”  
Brown also noted that wind direction is a key factor in exposure.

“You have to know under which conditions you definitely need to keep your windows closed and which conditions you could go out and take a walk with your dog or be outdoors. It’s very important that you know what the weather conditions are.”

He noted that the EHP’s website (environmentalhealthproject.org) offers guidelines on how best to gauge the wind direction as it relates to proper home ventilation.   
In the end, the team stressed that residents must always be informed about what is happening at these compressor stations.

“The most important thing is this: You have to insist that the industry alert you before a blowdown and when an accident occurs,” said Brown. “It’s absolutely vital that that happens.”

Mary Lee Hanley,  a representative of Algonquin Gas, shared some of the company’s safety protocols with North Salem News.

“The Algonquin transmission system has been operating safely in the area for more than 60 years, providing clean, reliable domestic natural gas to heat homes and businesses,” she said. “Our compressor stations are highly regulated and must meet rigorous siting standards, established by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The gas facilities are designed and have been constructed to meet or exceed all federal safety standards and regulations.”

She said they regularly send pipeline safety mailers to people who live along the route or close to compressor stations and  that they hold periodic liaison meetings and briefings with local first responders.

After the meeting, residents remained concerned, particularly for the safety of their children. Later that week one woman who attended the North Salem Board of Education meeting spoke during public comment.
“I had no idea about this Algonquin pipeline,” she began. “The school is so close to this.”

She said  she was particularly concerned about the blowdowns for when children could be outside. They said they don’t have [to tell] the community they’re doing these blowdowns. They might be doing them twice a month, they could be doing them twice a day...They’re not required to tell the community.”
Board members took the concern seriously.

“I’m confident the administration is following every health requirement,” said Andrew Brown, board president.

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