The GDF Suez Files

In 1982 the Mount Tom Power Plant converted from oil to coal and in less than a decade Mount Tom Coal Plant was deemed among the Dirty 3 in Massachusetts all the while citizens of Holyoke Massachusetts where the plant is located were suffering at the hands of one of the biggest energy companies in the world GDF Suez owned by the Engie Group, world-renowned for committing thousands of environmental violations across the globe. In 2014 the Mount Tom Coal Plant shut down amid avid protest and community outcry.

In its wake, the Mount Tom Coal Plant left Holyoke with an asthma rate twice as high as anywhere else the state, killed the sturgeon and disrupted the lives of over 400 endangered plants and species. This is an area where just a few miles down the road dinosaur fossils can be found. The Holyoke Mountain Range also has been famous for over a century because of the range’s hawk population which has been greatly depleted since the plant came online in the 60’s. Since the plant’s closure residents of Holyoke I interviewed said they were glad to see the hawk’s coming back to the range and this is only 3 years after the plant shut down. The plant also sits on a 100-year-old FEMA floodplain, which kinda begs the question as to why anyone would build toxic coal basins on a floodplain? Mt Tom Coal Plant spewed toxic waste without a permit to do so for 17 years and never paid a single fine until 2010. Sulfur dioxide was one chemical we researched, which forms particulate air pollution that causes breathing problems such as asthma. In Holyoke, the asthma rate is 26%, meaning 26% of the citizens have weakened immune systems and most of them are children. asthmadisparities2014.30092528_std

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With that said I guess the EPA, CDC, local and state officials chose to ignore the facts before their eyes and in doing so Holyoke’s asthma rates will continue to rise. You can’t cover the contaminated land with lush green grass build 14 acres of solar panels and call it fuckin environmental, the city of Holyoke’s excuse for this is that it simply would have cost too much money to clean the contaminated parcel. Even though GDF Suez who operated the plant publically stated that they had set aside 10 million dollars to clean the site. Yes, the plant has been shut down, but the land is still contaminated and toxic chemicals are still seeping through into the groundwater. Toxins are still contaminating the Connecticut River and the ecosystems that once thrived in this area. The chemical that has been confirmed by the Sierra Club of Massachusetts, but is not mentioned in the letter below to Governor Cellucci in 2000 is called Hexavalent Chromium first made famous by the Erin Brokevec movie, it’s a known carcinogenic and one of the deadliest, it derives from coal ash specifically by seeping through the ground water and if you peer at the slides below you can see the plants coal basin’s close proximity to the Connecticut River and because it’s a floodplain well whaddya know it floods quite frequently over running the ash basins and chemicals from the coal piles are seeping down into the groundwater every time it rains.

This letter was written and delivered to the Governor of Massachusetts in 2000
Letter from Massachusetts physicians in support of
tough regulations for old power plants:

January 10, 2000

The Honorable A. Paul Cellucci
The State House Boston, MA 02133

Dear Governor Cellucci,

As health care professionals we are deeply concerned about the impact that air pollution is having on our patients. In particular, five old coal- and oil-burning power plants in Massachusetts contribute significantly to our air pollution problems. Built 23-47 years ago, these Filthy Five power plants benefit from a loophole in our laws which exempts them from newer clean air emission standards, allowing them to emit up to five times more air pollution than newer plants. It is imperative that these plants be cleaned up to modern standards thereby reducing the toxicants to which our patients are exposed.

The Filthy Five plants are Brayton Point in Somerset, Salem Harbor in Salem, Canal in Sandwich, Mystic in Charlestown and the Mount Tom plant in Holyoke. These plants emit over 80% of the emissions from all Massachusetts power plants, and indeed 70 to 80% of all the fixed point emissions of nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxides in Massachusetts.

Major pollutants emitted include:

Sulfur Dioxide: which forms particulate air pollution that causes breathing problems such as asthma, and may contribute to up to 1000 deaths in Massachusetts each year. Sulfur dioxide, which itself may have a direct effect on asthma, contributes to the formation of acid aerosols and particulate matter air pollution, which has been very clearly shown to be associated with chest symptoms, days lost from school and work due to respiratory disease, increased asthma attacks and asthma medication use, increased emergency room use by persons with respiratory disease, increased hospitalization rates, and increased mortality rates from cardiac and pulmonary disease. Some estimates put the impact as high as a thousand deaths a year in Massachusetts due to air pollution.

Nitrogen Oxides, which create harmful ozone pollution that exacerbates asthma and other respiratory problems, and is particularly dangerous to the elderly, children and those with compromised immune systems. Nitrogen oxides react in the atmosphere and are converted to ozone air pollution. Ozone, a strong oxidant gas causes airway inflammation resulting in symptoms of chest pain and tightness, shortness of breath, and wheezing. Ozone causes declines in lung function and airway hyperreactivity resulting in exacerbations of asthma. Epidemiologically, this is associated with increased emergency room use and hospitalization. Indeed, the American Lung Association and the EPA have issued guidelines restricting recreational exercise, and the American Council of Governmental Industrial Hygienists have issued guidelines restricting heavy manual labor during ozone air pollution episodes.

Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are carcinogens. Hazardous air pollutants from these plants include polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and mercury. We know that PAHs are carcinogens, and when adsorbed to particulate matter, seem to contribute to lung cancer.

Mercury, a known neurotoxicant which has so polluted Massachusetts waterways that the Massachusetts Department of Public Health has issued statewide fish consumption advisories cautioning pregnant women and children to limit their consumption of fresh water fish due to mercury contamination. Mercury is a known fetal neurologic toxicant; methylated by microorganisms in aquatic systems, it is bio-concentrated by the ecosystem and enters the food supply via fish. Fish from so many lakes have tested in the toxic range for mercury that fish consumption advisories are the rule in our state. Coal plants, including the Brayton Point, Salem Harbor, and Mount Tom facilities are the largest unregulated source of mercury emissions in Massachusetts.

Sulfur dioxide, which itself may have a direct effect on asthma, contributes to the formation of acid aerosols and particulate matter air pollution, which has been very clearly shown to be associated with chest symptoms, days lost from school and work due to respiratory disease, increased asthma attacks and asthma medication use, increased emergency room use by persons with respiratory disease, increased hospitalization rates, and increased mortality rates from cardiac and pulmonary disease. Some estimates put the impact as high as a thousand deaths a year in Massachusetts due to air pollution.

Nitrogen oxides react in the atmosphere and are converted to ozone air pollution. Ozone, a strong oxidant gas causes airway inflammation resulting in symptoms of chest pain and tightness, shortness of breath, and wheezing. Ozone causes declines in lung function and airway hyperreactivity resulting in exacerbations of asthma. Epidemiologically, this is associated with increased emergency room use and hospitalization. Indeed, the American Lung Association and the EPA have issued guidelines restricting recreational exercise, and the American Council of Governmental Industrial Hygienists have issued guidelines restricting heavy manual labor during ozone air pollution episodes.

Hazardous air pollutants from these plants include polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and mercury. We know that PAHs are carcinogens, and when adsorbed to particulate matter, seem to contribute to lung cancer. The letter concluded with this plea;

“Governor Cellucci, our patients are being adversely affected locally and regionally by this air pollution, and we need your help to assure that each of these plants is cleaned up to modern standards by the year 2003. A coalition of over 130 organizations, including the American Lung Association, Massachusetts Respiratory Hospital, the Chelsea Asthma Project (Massachusetts General Hospital Health Center), Greater Boston Physicians for Social Responsibility, and many municipal boards of health across Massachusetts has come together to call on the state to act further to reduce air pollution from power plants. Specifically, the coalition urges that these oldest, most polluting plants, meet the same pollution standards required of newer power plants built after 1977. Governor Cellucci, please move swiftly to reduce the pollution from these stationary sources and prevent the illness that would otherwise result. Thank you for your prompt attention.” This letter was signed by over 75 doctors and health care professionals nearly 18 years ago and still, nothing is being done to clean the pollutants from the parcel.

When I asked a spokesman for GDF Suez, why they would knowingly dump toxic waste into the air and water of city with over 40 thousand people? To which he replied and I quote “we never dumped anything into the river”, thanks for answering the question Sir but no thanks for the lie. It’s impossible to have a power plant that pulls water from the river and doesn’t pollute the water because the toxic waste has to go somewhere and they can speak of treatment sites or landfills and lie about how the “toxic waste is cleaned and disposed of properly”. How can this be possible when GDF Suez has not filed a permit to dump toxic waste since 1999? We uncovered that GDF Suez violated the Clean Water Act 186 times from 2005-2010. WEDA was denied access to records before 2005 the Clerks Office at Holyoke City Hall cited some sort of “massive file transfer” that happen in late 2004, but I personally requested other records from this time not involving the Mt. Tom Coal Plant and received those without any complication.

In 2011 a deal was struck (but apparently not made public) with Attorney General of Massachusetts Martha Coakley and the AG office to apply pollution control to the plant. Why is there this constant effort to try and conceal what GDF Suez did instead of making it public? GDF Suez would publically go on to brag about its $55 million in new pollution control upgrades to the old plant that first came online in 1962. Which personally disgusted me, how dare Engie Group and GDF Suez cause the asthma rates in Holyoke to climb twice as high as any other city or town in the state of Massachusetts and then refuse to clean the toxins from the land that they put there. Engie group and GDF Suez funded health clinics to which local parents were invited to, at these clinic parents were taught the signs of asthma and how to treat it. Why weren’t the parents told the reason why their kids have asthma? The only logical explanation is that GDF Suez and it’s father company Engie group knew very well what they were doing to this community the first time they received notice in 2005 that they had violated the Clean Water Act and in 2006 the first “Asthma Awareness” clinic was held at the Holyoke Health Center.

Two years later the Mt. Tom Coal plant shut down and currently, the city of Holyoke has signed a deal with GDF Suez’s father company Engie Group who in turn has partnered with Holyoke Gas and Electric and built 14 acres of solar panels on the very same parcel that once held Mt. Tom Coal Plant. This sounds amazing and in fact, research shows the citizens of Holyoke overwhelmingly voted to be host to the biggest Solar Farm in the state. What the public isn’t being told is that the land in which this giant solar farm is located is contaminated by nearly 70 years of oil and coal refining.

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Engie Group had set aside 10 million dollars to clean up the sites parcel and it was a stipulation that Engie Group have this reserve of money should anything happen at the coal plant like a chemical spill or something of the sort in order for them to obtain permission to dump toxic waste in 1999, but instead of using the 10 million dollars to clean up the site they instead asked the tax payers of the city of Holyoke to clean up the parcel to which the citizens rejected. Mayor Morse, Holyoke Gas and Electric and Engie’s solution to this issue is to cover it with lush green grass and place thousands of solar panels on the contaminated land and pretend all is well? Coal piles still adorn the parcel they are right behind the solar panels but not in the picture shown nor reported on by local or national media. Mt Tom Coal Plant is a tough place to locate and has the security of government site rather than a solar farm. I was approached by local police twice and had my GoPro taken from me also my backpack was searched and the police took my notebook which is a clear violation of my constitutional rights. The goal was to take any evidence I had on my GoPro or in my notes and dispose of it because I was never charged with trespassing nor did I receive my notebook and GoPro back from Holyoke Police Department. I began to feel as if my presence in Holyoke Massachusetts was no longer welcome. After exhausting my options including trying to contact the mayor or any official from Holyoke Gas and Electric and being denied at every end I left, but before I left I reached out to local District 9 Representative Alex Vega who pretended to care about this issue only because it was an election year. I told Alex Vega that he needs to own up for lying to the public and his constituents about Mt. Tom Coal Plant and how contaminated the river and land really is.

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Martha Coakley, Mitt Romney, Deval Patrick, Mayor Morse of Holyoke Massachusetts, GDF Suez and Engie Group are all complicit in this epidemic. You conscientiously bore and are currently bearing witness, it’s time elected officials and global energy companies take responsibility for the asthma epidemic in Holyoke Massachusetts. To not inform the public of how polluted the water and air is, is a negligence to very citizens who elected you. There are no signs to not fish or swim, yet there has been an advisory in place since 1999 that advises pregnant women and young children not to consume the fish due to mercury contamination. Our research indicates state officials have directly known about this issue since 2000 via the hand written letter to the Governor. The WEDA Coalition calls on Governor Baker and Mayor Alex Morse act, to not procrastinate any longer and do everything in your power to end this epidemic instead of doing everything in your power to facilitate this epidemic by not serving the public as you were sworn to do. To the citizens of Holyoke, “no estas solo.”

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By Joziah -@dapeaple

We the people

Exuding free speech

Deserve nothing less than

Altruism

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