Lecture by Physician to Forecast Health Effects of Compressor Station

January 15, 2016

[Links to videos of the lecture: Video 1 | Video 2 | Video 3]

Opposition by residents and officeholders to the proposed Fore River compressor station stems largely from the idea that emissions from the facility would harm the health of Quincy and Weymouth residents. In a lecture to be held at 7 p.m. at the Thomas Crane Public Library, Quincy Center, on Tuesday January 26, Curtis Nordgaard, M.D., a pediatrician who practices in Dorchester, will back up that idea with some hard numbers.

Spectra Energy, the company proposing the compressor station, has downplayed any health effects that the facility might cause. “Spectra claims that pollution from the compressor station will be insignificant,” said Susan Harden, a board member of Fore River Residents Against Compressor Station, a cosponsor of the lecture. “The lecture will give people a chance to hear that claim debunked by an unbiased researcher with great credentials.”

The other cosponsors of the lecture are the library and Quincy Climate Action Network.

Research on the Spectra proposal by Nordgaard, who also has a master’s in biology, has taken him deep into the scientific literature on health effects of compounds such as benzene, formaldehyde, and acrolein, three of many pollutants that will be emitted by the compressor station, according to Spectra’s application to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The emissions will result in large part from the burning of gas to power the compressor, Nordgaard said in a telephone interview, and they will come on top of airborne pollutants from a pair of nearby power plants, a chemical factory, a sewage-pelletizing plant, and a tank farm. As part of his research, Nordgaard has been measuring air quality at two locations in Weymouth near the site of the proposed compressor station, and he hopes to have baseline air quality numbers to share at the lecture.

The few existing studies of compressor stations, which are limited in scope, have found effects including headaches, nosebleeds, and eye and throat irritation. Pollutants listed in the Spectra application are also known to cause elevated levels of heart and lung disease, said Nordgaard. The coauthor of ten journal articles, on topics as varied as medical care for homeless people, macular degeneration, and the functioning of the human brain, he plans to publish his research on the compressor station in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.

Gas companies and their allies are proposing natural gas as a “bridge fuel” that can break the world’s dependence on dirty fuels like coal and oil, supplying the world with cleaner energy for a few years, until renewable technologies like wind and solar are ready to take over. Norgaard disagrees with this characterization. “Gas power plants have lifetimes of 30 to 50 years and need to stay open for many years to recoup their cost,” he said. In addition, he said, research has shown that, because of leaks at gas wells and in gas transmission lines, natural gas produced by fracking may actually be dirtier than coal when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions.

“Renewable technologies have been ready to take over for some years now,” added QCAN board chair David Reich, “especially when combined with conservation and efficiency. What Massachusetts needs now is not more gas pipelines and compressor stations but more solar energy and more wind turbines—projects like the massive Bay State Wind Farm being proposed for waters off of Martha’s Vineyard, which would power half a million homes without harming the health of anyone.”