The Hopewell Township Board of Health conducted a hearing on Tuesday, July 28th, to assess the health and safety risks of the proposed PennEast pipeline, as a result of a petition by Hopewell Township Citizens Against the PennEast Pipeline (HTCAPP). After hearing hours of expert testimony, along with statements from concerned residents, identifying the myriad of health and safety risks posed by the proposed PennEast pipeline, Hopewell Township passed a resolution indicating that, as a result of its construction and operation, the pipeline would pose an “unreasonable and significant risk to the health and safety of the residents of Hopewell Township.”
As the hearing commenced, Hopewell Township Mayor Harvey Lester explained, “The focus of these proceedings is determine the potential health impacts of the PennEast Pipeline that are unique to Hopewell Township as a result of our topography geology and waterways,” said Mayor Lester. “While we are interested in public questions and concerns, the chief focus of this inquiry is scientific evidence presented though testimony and/or reports. It is our intention to create a record and a resolution, which may be of interest to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, commonly known as FERC and/or the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, as well as others. It is also our intention to provide a model for other PennEast-impacted local New Jersey Boards of Health to follow.”
Hopewell Township attorney, Steve Goodell, explained the procedure. “This is a fairly unique proceeding, but firmly based on authority given by statute. In order for the board to meet its requirements and develop a resolution, it will hear evidence and testimony from experts and members of the public. Experts get 10 minutes and citizens 3 minutes. At the end, the board can determine whether they have heard enough to pass a resolution. The recordings will be created in a transcript to use in other proceedings and all testimony under oath,” explained Goodell.
Water Quality and Quantity
The first expert to give testimony was Matthew Mulhall, the Township hydrogeologist. Mulhall offered his expert opinion from a geologist and hydrogeologist perspective that, given the pipeline route, the pipeline could have an adverse effect on quality and quantity of water. “The only available water resource is groundwater in Hopewell Township and any impacts make it difficult to use the water resources. We’ve known historically that there are issues with groundwater resources in Hopewell Township and studies, going back more than 50 years, indicate that groundwater resources are strained — streams should be flowing now but they are not,” explained Mulhall. “We also know that this is one of the most populated areas in the state and impacted by additional growth. Hopewell Township has a master plan to protect areas where the resources are not available, namely the northern portion of the township where the resources are most strained. And that is where PennEast is going.”
The pipeline path could potentially serve as a “preferred conduit” where water that infiltrates the bedrock fractures migrates along the path of the pipeline either in the ground or in the backfill, Mulhall explained. The conduit encourages water to move along it, from to one area from another, recharging some areas but also redirecting water away from where it typically had flowed and is still needed.
, Check out “More Taxes? Expert Warns Hopewell Township of Risks of Not Preserving Land” to find out more about the importance of groundwater in Hopewell Valley (and the related importance of open space).
Beyond the need to protect the quantity of clean groundwater, the pipeline poses a threat to the quality of the groundwater. The proposed pathway crosses the Hopewell Fault which contains the most important water resource in the Township, is necessary to Hopewell Borough’s water supply and plays a crucial role in carrying away natural and manmade contaminants including hydrologic fluids and fuels used in pipeline construction equipment.
“Contaminants could have irreparable harm to the limited resources of the Township, which must rely on dilution to reduce concentrations of contaminants (natural and manmade),” said Mulhall. “We ask that FERC consider the fact that these groundwater resources are limited, easily effected by both quantity and quality, and would be irreparably damaged as a result of cutting through the shale subsurface to install the pipeline. Ultimately, neither of the paths will allow Hopewell Township to protect its the water.”
Michael Pisauro, Policy Director at the Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed, also spoke about water quality including the importance of the filtering effect of stream buffers and mature forests.
“This issue is about keeping our waters clean,” said Pisauro. “Streams classified as ‘category 1’ [C1] have been determined by DEP to be of the highest quality and deserving of the best protection, including stream buffers which are vital to protecting water quality. Trees are important and you cannot remove them without effecting run off. Baldpate Mountain and Washington Crossing Park provide some of the highest quality filters of storm water. 90% of the streams don’t meet the water quality standards in this region, because of stormwater run off, and we already heavily rely on these buffers that will be removed by the PennEast pipeline. We will be left with nothing to stop, slow down, or filter the water.”
Dr. Michael Trachtenberg, an expert in neurobiology, green house chemistry, and behavioral psychology and a Lawrence Township resident, spoke about serious health concerns resulting from the construction and operation of a pipeline.
“PennEast presents serious health hazards… We all want clean energy, safe, and no adverse consequences but PennEast does not comply with any of these,” said Dr. Trachtenberg. “There are very high risks to Hopewell Township and adjoining areas.”
Trachtenberg spoke about his experience living near a compressor station in Lawrence Township. “That can be where the big leaks happen,” he said. Whether scheduled or accidental, the compressor releases methane in the air and accidents are unpredictable especially in impact, time and magnitude and can vary even based on wind conditions.
Contaminants that can be released from compressor stations and are present in the pipeline including radon, lead and polonium, particulates, and volatile organic compounds (“VOCs”), including Methyl Tertiary Butyl Ether/MTBE and benzene, which are carcinogens. Health consequences from emission exposures include affects to the following systems: respiratory, neurologic, dermal, vascular, and gastrointestinal, along with dangers to inhalation of radioactive gas and ultra-fine particles.
Measurements of contaminant releases into the area are based on Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) protocols, which averages the concentration over a period of time, often at a minimum of 24 hours, explained Trachtenberg. The problem with this method is that it is not effective for immediate proximity where the release may occur over an hour or two and is then diluted over the course of the rest of the monitoring period. Concentrated contaminant exposure can have a substantial health impact but will not be properly identified by this EPA measurement standard.
In addition to contamination, the pipeline poses a mortality risk.
“Were an explosion to occur, given the population density, fatalities are all but guaranteed, so too are numerous burn victims,” said Trachtenberg.
Below is a map of Hopewell Township/Pennington just south of the Pennington Circle on Route 31 where the pipeline is proposed to be routed. Should an explosion occur at this location (see the red dot on the map), those within the yellow circle would have a 50% chance of mortality.
Trachtenberg explained that the pipeline would cause a substantial burden transfer in that the local hospital or medical facilities, along with volunteer fire departments, would be tasked with dealing with potential consequences of an explosion.
Trachtenberg lastly spoke about the environmental effects of the pipeline, namely methane releases. “Fracking and attendant methane release represent a clear and present danger to the planet in the current-term and are contributing today to extreme global climate change scenarios,” he said.
Dr. Michael Brogan, a professor at Rider University and a Pennington resident, provided the Township Board of Health with an evaluation of the uncertainty and public risk associated with the construction of the proposed PennEast Pipeline. Brogan spoke about the background of gas transportation, New Jersey’s role as a central location in the northeast in gas transportation, and the shortage of adequate protections to residents.
“The problem that arises is that there is failure to protect residents in terms of safety,” explained Brogan as he showed a slide of substantial data reported by the pipeline industry itself regarding fatalities and risk. “For every dollar, the industry pays only 56 cents and the communities have to cover the difference — not just communities along the pipeline but also contiguous communities,” he explained.
Brogan also assessed the impact of the line based on numerous routes put forward, and based on tax maps, calculated the impact of blast zones. (See Pipeline Safety: Devastation in Hopewell Township Estimated By Rider U Professor.)
“1 out of 7 residents are put in harms way as a result of the PennEast pipeline and I ask the board to strongly consider a resolution to notify FERC that the PennEast Pipeline poses a significant impact on the residents and environment from a safety and risk perspective,” said Professor Brogan.
Dr. Lisa Dobruskin, a medical doctor and a resident of Pennington, living one house from where the pipeline is scheduled to end, testified to the medical/health effects of some of the compounds released from the pipeline.
“A lot of the effects are harmful to the human body including radon (odorless and colorless), polonium and lead. They get inhaled in the lungs, further decays and causes cancer,” explained Dobruskin. “Radon is the leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers and the second leading cause in smokers. VOCs cause serious effects such as cancers and childhood leukemia. Benzine is classified as a human carcinogen no matter how you are exposed to it — and there is no known safe level of benzine.”
VOCs effect the respiratory tract with asthma and brochitus, the immune system and increased risk of allergies and allergic type diseases and food allergies, and have serious reproductive complications including disruption to fetal development, said Dobruskin.
Echoing similar testimony as Dr. Trachtenberg, Dobruskin said that studies show that health harm happens even below the levels set by the EPA and the way the levels are measured do not adequately reflect the risk. Dobruskin suggests that the measurement should be about peak levels and frequency of exposure, not just within a time block, because the effect is dependent on both duration and intensity. Effects could be immediate or arise later and are difficult to measure. ” I am extremely concerned about the safety and well being of my family and the community as a whole,” concluded Dr. Dobruskin.
Mental Health Effects
Dr. Scott Donofrio, a general and child psychologist in the area who lives and practices in Pennington, presented on “Pipeline Nightmares: Human Fear Response.”
“When people hear that there is a chance of being 1 out of 7 of being in harms way, that instills fear,” explained Donofrio. “Fear doesn’t require logic — it prepares us for threats to bodily integrity based on the idea that we are going to need to act right now to respond to the self threat and we maintain the high level of stress when that threat that does not resolve.”
Donofrio explained that if this perceived threat of danger does not resolve, the effects can include decreased producvitiy, increased suffering, disturbed relationships. effects on the immune, nervous, gastrointestinal and cardiovascular systems. Further, the mental health results from the knowledge of a potential physical threat could include depression, mania, and, in extreme cases, detachment from reality and disorganized thoughts.
The last individual to offer testimony was Katherine Dresdner, Hopewell Township Citizens Against PennEast Pipeline attorney and Hopewell resident, who spoke about rampant safety violations by companies who comprise what is known as “PennEast” including UGI Energy Services, AGL Resources (Elizabethtown Gas), PSE&G, South Jersey Industries, New Jersey Resources, and Spectra Energy Partners. Dresdner spoke about the increase of pipeline incidents since 2002 and the failure of pipeline construction companies to take the proper precautions to ensure safety of the surrounding communities.
Members of the public spoke as to their own personal health and safety concerns including someone who experiences chemical/electrical sensitivities and would not be able to live on her own property should the pipeline be constructed. Another member of the public spoke about the trauma she experienced as a child when her uncle suffered mental and physical deterioration after being victim of a gas explosion.
Some spoke about “controlled venting” from the Willaims Transco compression station in Lawrence. “The odor coming through was nauseating and the idea of another pipeline coming into the area with unnatural sources coming into our lives is unacceptable,” one said. Another member of the public spoke about having to evacuate her own house because of a release of methane gas at the Carter Road station. “It was strong enough to be concerned about the safety of my family and we evaluated. We could even smell it inside the house,” she said.
The last to make a public comment was Patty Cronheim, HTCAPP Coordinator, who read a letter by a fellow anti-pipeline advocate, Angele Switzler, who recently suffered a brain hemorrhage.
“This is a very hard account for me to write,” Patty read the words of her friend Angele. “I firmly believe that my health crisis was a direct result of the stress of having my home and family threatened. Sleep was almost impossible. It was small solace to hear that the pipeline was not likely to explode. In fact, they do rupture and blow up. I do not have faith in a company that uses scare tactics to intimidate homeowners… If PennEast proceeds, we will despair over our lost daylilies, grown over generations, and the chain-sawed trees knowing, that in our lifetime, we will not see new trees reach a similar size. I have had to train myself to sit, to relearn to walk, and I still do not have proper balance. I now have a 30% chance of having a second incident in the next two years, one that, in all likelihood, could kill me. This is the true cost of the pipeline for our family.”
As MercerMe reported last week, Hopewell Township passed a resolution determining that, as a result of its construction and operation, the PennEast Pipeline would pose an “unreasonable and significant risk to the health and safety of the residents of Hopewell Township.” (See Pipeline Poses Risk to Health and Safety, Hopewell Township Passes Resolution)
Reaction from the environmental community has been positive. Michele Byers, Executive Director, New Jersey Conservation Foundation commended Hopewell Township for this resolution. “We commend Hopewell Township Committee members and Friends of Hopewell Valley Open Space for their leadership to oppose the proposed PennEast pipeline and bar PennEast from gaining access to the Ted Stiles Preserve at Baldpate Mountain, as well as other Township lands,” said Byers. “Hopewell Township, Mercer County, elected officials, Friends of Hopewell Valley Open Space and landowners throughout the region are demonstrating their united and growing opposition to the proposed PennEast pipeline, and support to save the area’s protected lands, water and natural resources, and communities from this grave threat. The PennEast pipeline is an insult to those of us who worked so hard to protect our precious lands and waterways. We are pleased to have the support of the Township as we continue this fight on behalf of all New Jerseyans.”
Patty Cronheim, from HTCAPP also made a statement. “We are pleased that our township elected officials are listening to the will of the people of Hopewell and telling PennEast to get off of our lands. Our community, like all communities in NJ, is united against the proposed PennEast pipeline.”
Do you want to watch the hearing for yourself? Hopewell Township has it on their website. Check it out by clicking this link.