This is post 3 of an investigation into the air quality of the Pioneer Valley of W. Massachusetts, in the context of the permitting process for the proposed Pioneer Valley Energy Center in Westfield. Though I am focusing tightly on this area, the sites I’ve used contain info about other areas, & w/a lil effort you can use them to learn about the air you breath, and that becomes you.
Before I present them, though, allow me to reminisce about how, in the summer of ’04, I was relaxing on a beach in Truro, reading a murder-mystery book about a homicide committed in the same town, when I beheld this scary passage:
Truro has the worst air pollution in Massachusetts. A scientist at the federal Environmental Protection Agency calls Truro “the tailpipe of the nation” because it takes a direct hit from the prevailing western winds that spew smog and ozone sources far inland. Sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and fine particulate matter created by industries and power plants in the Midwest, augmented by pollution from the heavily populated Northeast Corridor, from D.C. to New York, are funneled over the Outer Cape. Charles Kleecamp of Cape Clean Air said that the EPA issues warnings when ozone levels reach one hundred, but the monitoring station in Truro records ground-level ozone at two hundred. People can drop dead.
I remember little else from this beach-read, because I couldn’t believe my family was vacationing in one of the most polluted places in New England. I had no clue, until then, that places that look so clean can be so dirty.
I was also struck by the fact while Truro creates very little air pollution, it inherits the pollution from places far away, in many cases from states that have anti-environmental political leadership. It bothered me to think that people in, say, Kentucky were profiting handsomely off the pollution they pumped into the sky, and that my little girls splashing in the waves were getting 0% benefit from those Kentucky profits. All they were getting was poisoned.
Westhampton never seemed the same to me after read that, not that I liked it any less; no, what was different was me, the way I looked at blue skies with the knowledge they weren’t as blue as they once seemed. I vowed that, someday, I’d take the time to learn what we’re breathing—and when I received the note last week from Concerned Citizens of Westfield about the oil & natural burning electrical generation plant proposal being reviewed by the EPA, I realized I’d procrastinated for too long. My goal is to amass credible data so I can write a reasonable letter of concern about the proposal, and send it to the EPA by 1/20 so that it will be read and considered by that agency as it ponders what it will and won’t permit.
The ozone issue is a big one, b/c in 2004 Hampshire and Hampden counties were “designated nonattainment for EPA’s health-based standards for ground-level ozone pollution.” As far as my research tells me so far, there’s been no improvement in our “F” grade ozone situation. If this proves to be the case, I have a factual basis for my concerns.
The EPA is also concerned: “EPA-New England determined the new facility proposed by Pioneer would result in significant emission increases of particulate matter less than 10 microns and 2.5 microns in diameter, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, sulfuric acid mist, and greenhouse gases.”
Let’s look closer a the issue of fine particulate matter, or soot. Mass DEP says that “the primary standards for PM2.5 are 15 ug/m_ averaged over an entire year and 35 ug/m_ averaged over a 24-hour period.” Fine soot is bad for us: “Because of their miniscule size, these particles can penetrate deeply into the lungs and accumulate in the respiratory system.”
Look at this graph tracking fine soot levels @ the Springfield Public Library I generated here:
I see 2 things in regards to fine soot pollution: winter months seem to be the worse, and the yearly average looks like it’s close to the 15 ug/m threshold.
In this permitting process, the EPA and DEP will have to add the extra fine soot generated by the oil & natural gas burning plant to the sum load that’s generated everywhere else, and calculate if the 15 ug/m annual-average threshold is going to be broken. Natural gas burning yields less fine soot; petroleum more—so, to get a sound estimate, we’ll have to figure out how much of either is burned, and for how long.
Welcome to regulatory lalaland! How am I, or any average citizen, supposed to get those figures? And without those figures, how are we expected to write useful comments?
A commenter on the biocitizen facebook page wrote about this difficulty in trying to get good #s:
“My husband raised some important questions about the oil “backup” when natural gas demand is high (which is going to be more than the 2 month winter season they stipulate– 2 mos. winter season, where do they think we live?!?). Do the emissions projections include oil burning?”
I don’t know! I will continue to research—maybe the #s are available but I need to dig deeper. This, and allied questions, can be asked at the public hearing in Westfield on Thursday night, and then a letter be drafted & sent afterwards:
The purpose of a hearing is to offer a forum where questions can be raised and answered. I’ll have one post on this subject before the hearing, and hope to offer readers a list of hearing questions.
- Do you know what your air quality is? (Hint: “F”)
- How the EPA regulates particulate matter (PM), & how PMed is Springfield
- Consider: a new oil & natural gas burning electricity-generating plant in Westfield
- Bill Clinton’s latest bad idea: Goldman Sachs trading “carbon credits” on Wall St.
- Transgenic DNA from GMOs in Chinese Rivers—why is it suddenly there?