Compressor station harmful?

TEMPLE – A gas compressor station planned in New Ipswich would release a variety of pollutants into the atmosphere – pollutants that would be harmful, even at very low levels, to people living nearby, said Curtis Nordgaard, M.D., a pediatrician at Boston Children’s Hospital.

Nordgaard showed results from his research on the health hazards of compressor stations – the facilities that provide energy to move the gas through a pipeline – during a presentation at Temple Elementary School on Dec. 15.

Energy giant Kinder Morgan wants to build an 80,000-horsepower station in the northeast corner of New Ipswich, near the borders of Temple and Greenville, part of its plan for a multibillion-dollar gas pipeline that would go through 78 miles of southern New Hampshire.

According to Nordgaard, children living within six miles of the station would have more occurrences of asthma. Adults living within that distance would have more incidents of heart failure and respiratory problems from the formaldehyde and other toxic gases that would be emitted.

The station is planned for 292 acres on Skinny Cat Road in New Ipswich, about a half mile from Temple Elementary School. On Dec. 15, about 100 people gathered in the school gym to listen to Nordgaard, whose research focuses on environmental health and compressor stations and on asthma in particular.

Some of Nordgaard’s data came from documents Kinder Morgan recently filed with federal regulators, including a list of toxic and carcinogenic substances that would be emitted by the station: 49.62 tons per year of nitrogen dioxide, along with carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, particulate matter, sulfur dioxide and volatile organic compounds.

Nitrogen dioxide has been found to cause heart failure and hospitalizations for respiratory problems, and carbon monoxide is associated with premature and low birth-weight babies.

Very low levels of these pollutants are harmful, Nordgaard said, even levels below federal standards.

There has not been a lot of research on the health effects from compressor stations, he said, but in one study of 35 people living within a mile of a station in Minisink, N.Y. – a 12,000-horsepower station, much smaller than the one planned for New Ipswich – 22 people reported frequent nosebleeds, 12 reported headaches and 10 reported rashes.

About 14,000 people live within about six miles of the planned New Ipswich station, including 3,500 children, he said.

Using data from Kinder Morgan’s consultants that show predicated concentrations of the pollutants, as well as public health studies of the effects of those concentrations within a six-mile radius, the doctor said the 50 tons of nitrogen dioxide coming from the station each year would be expected to cause a 7 percent increase in new diagnoses of childhood asthma and a 2.2 percent increase in hospitalizations for childhood asthma.

For adults, there would be a 6.7 percent increase in chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, he said, and the same concentrations increased the number of strokes by 3.7 percent and heart failure by 6.7 percent. Deaths from cardiovascular disease would go up by 1.1 percent and from respiratory problems by 1.4 percent.

"That’s why nitrogen dioxide is a closely regulated pollutant," Nordgaard said.

Formaldehyde, produced by the burning of fracked gas in a compressor station, is a dangerous toxic irritant that causes cancers and would effect people living within a half mile of the proposed site, and Temple Elementary School is within that range.

"What increased risk of cancer is acceptable for your child?" Nordgaard said. "As a pediatrician, I took care of a fair number of children with cancer, and the answer is zero."

Nordgaard also argued against the idea that gas is a "clean bridge fuel" between coal and sustainable power sources such as wind and solar, saying natural gas produces much more methane, which is considered a major contributor to climate change.

During the question-and-answer session that followed his presentation, Nordgaard was asked about a recent meeting he had with Gov. Maggie Hassan. He indicated that the potential human health consequences did not seem to be her highest priority.

"She acknowledged the importance of health," he said, "but the majority of the time she talked about the energy needs of New Hampshire" and how gas is better than oil.

If the station gets built, Nordgaard said, there will be a need for data on pre-existing concentrations of pollutants from a network of monitoring sites so changes can be measured.

Tennessee Gas, the subsidiary of Kinder Morgan that would operate the facility, must receive an air quality permit from the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services and must demonstrate that the proposed compressor station won’t harm human health or the environment.

The Houston-based energy company filed a federal application last month for the $5.2 billion project and now is preparing its application for the New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee.

A phone call to Craig Wright, director of Department of Environmental Services’ Air Resources Division, was returned by Pamela Monroe, an administrator at the Site Evaluation Committee, who said it’s too early in the approval process to comment on environmental aspects.

After Kinder Morgan files its application for the pipeline and compressor station with the SEC, there will be several public hearings, she said. Everything that is filed to date and all public comments should be on the SEC’s website, www.nhsec.nh.gov. The project’s docket number is SEC2015-08.

Industry officials have said the benefits of natural gas for air quality far outweigh any negatives.

Nordgaard is a co-founder of Just Health Network, a nonprofit that focuses on health projects for underserved areas of the world, He was invited to Temple by the town’s Ad Hoc Pipeline Advisory Committee and New Ipswich Pipeline Resistance, two of several local groups that are opposing the project.

He did not talk about the noise produced by compressor stations, but called it "a huge topic itself."

The Northeast Direct gas pipeline would go through western Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire as part of its path from the huge gas reserves in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus shale field to an end point in Dracut, Mass.

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100 or kcleveland@cabinet.com.