Bedford Board of Health Opposes Fracked Gas Pipeline

By Debra Parkhurst

At their meeting on June 5, the Bedford Board of Health signed on to a letter to Governor Charlie Baker that opposes the development of fracked gas infrastructure (FGI) in Massachusetts.

The letter, initiated by The Sierra Club, states that while gas extraction causes health issues at fracking sites, pollutants and toxins may also be released “anywhere along the pipeline infrastructure.” Reports from the gas companies indicate that air pollutants and heavy metals may be emitted anywhere there are “releases of gas, unintentional or intentional, anywhere along the pipeline infrastructure.”    These air pollutants are linked to various types of cancers, lung issues, and birth defects.   The letter indicates that comprehensive health risk assessments have not been done, so it is “impossible to know” the risks to the population.

The letter also links FGI to climate change.   Pipelines and their transmission components release greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, further contributing to climate change.  The Sierra Club letter claims that “Climate change is disrupting our state’s natural ecosystems and built infrastructure and negatively impacting human health, and is leading to increased rates of infectious diseases and cancer.”  The letter notes that the American Medical Association (AMA) is calling for more study of the health impacts of FGI, while the Massachusetts Attorney General believes expanded FG is unnecessary, given other clean energy choices.

Bedford Health Director Heidi Porter said that local communities such as Concord, Arlington, and Norwood have signed on to this letter.  Boston has written a separate letter, but the Board did not have a copy of it.  Porter also said that the MA Department of Public Health (DPH) has not taken a position.  Board member Sarah Thompson wondered if Bedford should wait until there are further assessments.  Porter reported that around the country there has been evidence of water contamination and gas emissions at transfer stations.  Member Ann Kiessling has done some research and suspected that New England does not need more natural gas for its own energy supply.  Citing reports from Synapse Energy Economics, she said New England will not have a particular increase for energy needs by 2030.   While the gas is purported to be necessary for providing energy for electrical power for the region, some believe the gas lines and transmission are for export purposes. In a cautionary note, Kiessling said that the risk/benefit ratio is unknown.   She suggested that IF there was a known need for increased electricity, the benefit might be worth the risk.There are now over 90 methane gas leaks in town due to infrastructure issues.

Janet Powers of Mothers Out Front, an advocacy group promoting clean, renewable energy choices and moving away from fossil fuels, reported that the State Department of Public Health found that the rush to do the gas line was in conflict with public health.   Her group’s report indicates that renewable energy and energy efficiency might be more beneficial.  Mothers Out Front is supporting the town signing on to the letter.  The group believes that the large public health issue is climate change and any form of natural gas contributes to climate change.

The Board of Health agreed that this is a public health issue and will sign on to the Sierra Club letter, and will also request further analyses of these health issues.

Sierra Club letter:  https://www.sierraclub.org/massachusetts/board-health-letter-gov-baker


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