December 18, 2014

New Yorkers to Have Radon With Dinner

Future Radon Exposure in NYC Metro Area with Marcellus Shale Gas, at the level expected, could result in thousands of additional cancer deaths.

Damascus Citizens first raised the subject of radon arriving in the pipelines with Marcellus gas last fall and our attorney Jeff Zimmerman gave testimony on the NY sGEIS  in December and we have been talking about this issue everywhere we go since then.   Anything that can cause  thousands of deaths should be the subject of a public health inquiry before it is allowed to proceed.

View report as PDF

NJ-NY Expansion Project Could Cause 30,000 Additional Cases of Lung Cancer
By Peter Rugh, NY Green Community Examiner, May 16, 2012

A proposed natural gas pipeline, expected to stretch from New Jersey to Manhattan’s West Village could carry radon into New York homes, and cause up to 30,000 additional lung cancer deaths. That’s according to a new study, cited in a filing on Friday by environmental groups who are urging the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to investigate the risk of radon poisoning that they warn the interstate New Jersey-New York Expansion Project carries with it.

The 16-mile transmission line, to be built and operated by Spectra Energy, would bring natural gas from New Jersey, under the Hudson and into the city. A portion of the gas will be sourced from Pennsylvania, where energy companies have been hydro-fracking the state’s Marcellus Shale.

Dr. Marvin Resnikoff, an expert in radioactive waste management who conducted the study, points out that gas from the Marcellus includes wellhead radon concentrations seventy times above average. Resnikoff says the influx of radon from the Spectra Pipeline into an estimated 11 million homes, via stoves and laundry appliances could lead to as many as 30,448 potential new lung cancer deaths.

Environmental groups including Food and Water Watch, the Sierra Club, and the New Jersey based No Gas Pipeline filed a statement with the FERC last week, citing Resnikoff’s study and calling on the agency to investigate the risk of radon being pumped into millions of homes before it makes its decision on whether to green-light the pipeline.

Aside from increased cases of lung cancer, there is the risk of explosions; gas pipelines occasionally blow up. There are approximately 275 gas pipeline accidents a year, leading to 10 to 15 deaths and about 65 to 70 injuries, according to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. PHMSA is tasked with monitoring interstate pipelines. There are two million miles of gas distribution lines in the US. PHMSA employs 125 inspectors.

Generally pipelines run through rural areas, keeping fatalities low. However, oil is becoming an increasing costly commodity to extract, with drillers forced to pump the earth in more and more remote locations, including the arctic. For this reason, energy companies are turning to natural gas, which the US has a ready supply of close at hand (though estimates have reportedly been greatly embellished), as a replacement fuel. That means constructing more pipelines to deliver gas to markets in more densely populated regions of the country

The Jersey Turnpike, ball fields, a chemical storage plant, Light Rail tracks and a 911 call center all lie along the pipeline’s route on the Jersey side. The pipeline will enter New York near the High Line, a popular park built on refurbished elevated train tracks in the Meat Packing District.

In 2010, a pipeline explosion in suburban San Bruno, California killed 8 people. Opponents of the Spectra Pipeline want lawmakers to consider what would happen if such a blow-up took place in the densely populated areas of Jersey City and the West Village.

“This is a thirty inch gas pipeline—the [circumference] of a cafe table—and its coming in with the force of a fire hose,” says Clare Donohue of Sane Energy Project, one of the New York environmental groups opposing the Expansion Project. Donohue notes that the pipeline which exploded in San Bruno was same pressure and size as the one Spectra is hopes to build.

Seeking to sooth public fears, Bill Yardley, Group Vice President of Spectra Energy told the Jersey City Independent, “Safety is our franchise. It’s what we do.” But the would-be operator of the proposed pipeline has a checkered past. Texas Eastern Transmission, a division of Spectra, was fined $15 million by the Environmental Protection Agency in 1987 for discharging highly toxic polychlorinated biphenyl (PCBs) at 89 sites along 9,000 miles of pipeline stretching from Texas. The fine ranks among the highest in the EPA’s history. In 2004, explosions at a Spectra gas storage facility at Moss Bluff, Texas sparked a fire that burned for 6 1/2 days. Six billion cubic feet of gas was released. Residents within a three mile radius were forced to evacuate.

Spectra has powerful allies in Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s office and the Public Service Commission who are willing to overlook the risks posed by the transmission line and Spectra’s questionable safety track record. Earlier this month, Bloomberg urged FERC to expedite its approval process, so that pipeline construction can begin this June. Bloomberg’s office says it wants to convert boilers to gas and cites “seasonal construction period limitations” as a need to skip the 90 day review process following the public comment period which ended in April. FERC received 5000 letters opposing the Spectra Pipeline, 22 in favor, during the comment period.

The disparity between public opinion which appears to oppose the pipeline and the pipeline’s powerful supporters has been felt in the streets of New York in recent weeks. The West Village has been the site of a series of protests. On Earth Day, activists with Occupy Wall Street, dropped a banner from the High-Line reading “Keep Your Fracking Pipeline”.

This past weekend, approximately 100 activists staged another protest near the site of the proposed pipeline. Time’s Up, an environmental group which uses bicycles to perform acts of civil disobedience and raise awareness, pedaled through the streets of lower Manhattan Saturday, disrupting traffic with signs condemning the pipeline. They joined comrades on foot, including Reverend Billy and the Stop Shopping Choir, at Pier 54. Singing and chanting they marched to Gansevoort and Washington Street—the southern entrance to the High Line—where the Specta Pipeline is expected to rear its head.

The activists were flanked by police throughout the ride and march. At one point, police destroyed a cardboard diorama of a gas explosion members of Time’s Up attempted to hang from the High Line. At first the cops put the flattened prop in the trash but then decided to hold on to it as “evidence”.

Reverend Billy was on hand. A familiar face to activists in New York, he uses the faux persona of a 1980s-style televangelist preacher to galvanize crowds around issues he and the church of Earthalujah deem righteous. Dressed in a polyester white suit, the Reverend told the flock, “What we want to do is stop them here. Stop them in Jersey City. Stop them… in Pennsylvania… in upstate New York… under the river. Stop natural gas pipelines. Stop hydro-fracking!”

Monica Hunkin, an organizer with Time’s Up and member of the Stop Shopping Choir stepped up and poured black and orange paint over herself, representing the toxic chemicals the Spectra Pipeline will carry into New Yorkers’ homes. Her toe length white dress, blond hair, and normally bright face were covered in the sludge-like paint.

If the Expansion Project is green-lighted things could get messy. As legal and activists battles unfold, those opposing Spectra’s plans are holding their breath, hoping the next one they draw won’t contain radon.