SAFEGUARDING CHILDREN AND COMMUNITIES
Every year, to mark the anniversary of the 1937 Texas School Explosion, I salute inspirational leaders who demonstrate an extraordinary sense of responsibility and commitment to the safety of children and their communities. Dr. Nordgaard is a 2018 Healthy Kids Hero.
Dr. Curt Nordgaard is one of the founders of the Massachusetts Health Professionals for Clean Energy, a grassroots organization working to raise awareness of the hazards of fracked gas and fossil fuel infrastructure and advocating for the transition to clean energy sources. Along with a rising tide of scientists and health professionals, they are calling for a comprehensive health impact assessment before new permits are issued and for changes to regulations and siting requirements so that public health is protected.
Dr. Nordgaard had already been giving presentations and speaking out about fracked gas hazards when Susan Lees learned about him. Lees was a member of the founding team of Mothers Out Front, the coordinator of the Massachusetts Mothers Out Front Pipeline Task Force and a member of the Environmental Justice Team.
Caring and Committed
Lees recognized that Dr. Nordgaard was dedicated to advocacy in spite of the demands of his pediatric practice and young family. She approached him to talk about their shared concern for communities impacted by fossil fuel hazards and industrial pollution as well as her interest in getting more health care professionals involved in efforts to stop new fossil fuel infrastructure projects as part of our transition away from fossil fuels.
Together they reached out to concerned physicians, nurses and other health professionals and recruited them to form Mass Health Care Providers Against Fracked Gas in May 2016 (later restructured as Massachusetts Health Professionals for Clean Energy). The group set their main goal — for the Commonwealth to conduct comprehensive health impact assessments before issuing permits for new gas infrastructure projects. They have been particularly concerned about the proposed Weymouth compressor station, a facility that would further pollute three communities on the South Shore including environmental justice communities.
By Sept 2016 the Massachusetts group had been in touch with another group, Concerned Health Professionals of NY, that had been working to report on the hazards of hydrofracking from the scientific and medical literature and to overcome the political obstacles to prioritizing public health.
The most engaged members of Massachusetts Health Professionals for Clean Energy started meeting with legislators, state officials and regulatory agencies. They have been testifying at legislative committee hearings, lobby days and demonstrations.
They teamed up with groups such as the Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station that has a growing list of supporters and allies among local, state and national officials, community and environmental organizations and colleagues.They share data, model policies, and resources. See Fact Sheets and Resources.
Finding a Better Way
In October 2016 Mass Health Care Providers Against Fracked Gas submitted a Letter to state officials with a White Paper describing the Comprehensive Health Impact Assessment (CHIA) and its role in the review process for natural gas infrastructure projects. At a demonstration in front of a metering station in West Roxbury they called for a moratorium on major pipelines, new or under construction, “until the health of our patients, families, and communities can be adequately taken into account.” (Press Release.)
Dr. Nordgaard and other opponents of the compressor station hired an outside environmental testing lab to test the air quality at and around the proposed site. Results showed high levels of pollutants including eight toxic pollutants at higher levels than MA Department of Environmental Protection guidelines, including repeatedly elevated levels of benzene. Dr. Nordgaard also collaborates on a research study to identify chemical contaminants in natural gas.
The goal is “to make sure something happens with the data” and to advocate for regulations and siting requirements that do a better job of protecting people.
__________ Videos ___________
Health Risks of Compressor Stations 2:25 min, ReThinkEnergyNJ, (4/2017)
“Fracked Gas: How Safe Is It?” 13:41 min, (Quincy Access Television, 1/2016)
An intensive advocacy campaign included media releases, demonstrations, social media and ongoing outreach and education to build relationships with community groups, legislatures, colleagues and professional groups throughout the state and across the country.
In July, 2017 Governor Baker finally halted the permitting process and called on state agencies to evaluate air pollution and public safety concerns.
“Even down to very low levels, air pollution is harmful for human health, and that’s even below what’s considered to be a safe standard today…” “The state should be doing something about what’s there already — not adding more of those pollutants with a new station. “ (WGBH newscast 7/27/17t: State Reviewing Controversial Weymouth Natural Gas Compressor Plan.)
“In July, 2017 Gov. Charlie Baker notified Weymouth officials that he had directed state agencies to investigate issues that opponents have raised about the controversial project, including air pollution and public safety. Baker said the state will not issue any permits for the project until the assessment is complete.” (Doctor says natural gas from proposed compressor could ignite, Jessica Trufant, The Patriot Ledger, October 2017.)
The Power of Partnerships
January 30, 2018 In anticipation of the state’s 2018 air quality evaluation in 2018, Brita Lundberg MD, Regina LaRocque MD MPH, Susan Lees, Professor Nathan Phillips, PhD, and Jessica Wright organized “Natural Gas Infrastructure and Public Health: From Local to Global.” (Videos)
The conference was co-sponsored by Boston University School of Public Health, Massachusetts Medical Society, Massachusetts Association of Health Boards, Union of Concerned Scientists, Greater Boston Physicians for Social Responsibility, Health Care Without Harm, Massachusetts Health Professionals for Clean Energy, and Physicians for Policy Action.
February 2, 2018. Fifty-three Massachusetts Boards of Health signed a letter urging Governor Charlie Baker to require comprehensive health impact assessments for any new gas infrastructure, to measure the effects on the climate and human health.
It said that fracked gas infrastructure “increases health disparities, worsens public health, and makes poor use of our health care resources by potentially creating public health problems, instead of preventing them.”
Some boards sent personal letters to the governor, citing specific concerns related to their community. The letter to the Governor and the list of local Boards of Health that signed it are here.
Advocacy for Clean Energy
Dr. Nordgaard’s work inspired other members of Massachusetts Health Professionals for Clean Energy to play active roles in policy making at the local and state level.
Dr. Brita Lundberg, an infectious diseases physician and a board member of Green Newton, was inspired by Dr Nordgaard’s March 2016 presentation at the local library about the intersection of fracked gas, air pollution, and climate change.
“We health care providers consider advocating for cleaner air and a response to climate change to be part of our professional responsibility as healthcare providers.”
Dr. Lundberg successfully initiated a resolution of the Environmental Health Committee of the Massachusetts Medical Society calling for a health impact assessment for new gas infrastructure.
In her October 2017 testimony at the MA Department of Public Utilities and at the MA legislature’s Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy, Dr. Lundberg cited resolutions by several professional medical associations.
“Because of these health concerns, the American Medical Association, the Massachusetts Medical Society, and the Massachusetts Nurses Association have passed resolutions supporting legislation to require comprehensive health impact assessments prior to the construction of natural gas infrastructure; the Mass Medical Society further demanded that the health impacts of existing natural gas infrastructure be studied; they were specifically interested in the health effects of gas leaks, which affects all of our communities.”
Dr. Regina LaRocque is an Infectious Diseases specialist at the Massachusetts General Hospital and an Assistant Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. She has a special interest in the impact of climate change on human health and the spread of infectious diseases.
In 2015 Dr. LaRocque attended the first meeting of the MA Interfaith Coalition for Climate Action whose organizers included Lisa Olney, a volunteer for the community group, Sustainable Wellesley. “Hearing Dr. Nordgaard speak about gas leaks and health hazards was a turning point. “I realized this was not just a policy debate, but a health issue,” she said. “I decided I could apply my professional skills to my personal advocacy.”
Dr. LaRocque got more involved as Sustainable Wellesley was raising awareness of the local gas leak problem. In 2017 she was elected to the Wellesley Natural Resources Commission and spoke at a community forum about gas and human health. Forum Video (Dr LaRocque’s presentation starts at 33:45 min.)
Raising the Alarm
Professional medical associations are raising the alarm and encouraging advocacy for clean energy and to expose the air and water pollution and environmental justice violations caused by gas and other fossil fuel infrastructure.
“We need to take action now to protect the health of our community’s most vulnerable members — including our children, our seniors, people with chronic illnesses, and the poor — because our climate is already changing and people are already being harmed.” — Ann Intern Med. 2016 May 3. Climate Change and Health: A Position Paper of the American College of Physicians.
American Medical Association (2015). H-135.930 Protecting public health from natural gas infrastructure, Resolution 519, A-15.
Massachusetts Medical Society (2017). Protecting public health from natural gas infrastructure in Massachusetts, Resolution A-17 A-105.
Medical Society Consortium on Climate and Health (2017). Medical Alert! Climate Change is Harming our Health.
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