Why a Town of 9/11 Survivors Is Fearful Their Community Will Be a Natural Gas Sacrifice Zone

Personal Health

This article was published in partnership with GlobalPossibilities.org.

When some 9/11 responders--many with health issues from that crisis--sought to regain their health, many settled in the small town of "Guns and Hoses," the nickname of Minisink, N.Y. The many police and firemen who live there (in keeping with residency parameters imposed on NYC emergency service employees) never could have foreseen that within a few years, Minisink (located north of NYC) would become a high-risk zone for gas explosions and contamination, thanks to a plan to build a major compressor station for a gas pipeline--smack in the center of town.

Wherever it is drilled, shale gas travels all across the country. The gas is carried to and fro via miles and miles of pipeline slated for construction as part of a multi-billion dollar investment in infrastructures necessary for a conversion to the use of shale gas. This investment is being made even though the Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) has determined that current rates of gas output reveal that the available gas reserves can only fill U.S. energy needs--not for the fictional one hundred years--but for a mere dozen years at best.

Therefore, as Bill Moyers and Chris Hedges discussed in a July 2012 "Moyers & Company"--some American communities are quietly being redefined as "sacrifice zones" which are "destroyed for quarterly profit. We're talking about environmentally destroyed, communities destroyed, human beings destroyed, families destroyed," Hedges told Moyers.

While the Minisink plan is being undertaken with minimal forethought or plan to minimize damage, what makes Minisink different is that many of its residents are Ground Zero first responders and survivors who know what can happen to the health of people in target zones. Due to the high rates in respiratory disease and cancers following toxic inhalations at the original Ground Zero, the 9/11 first responders residing in Minisink have direct personal experience of the health dangers posed by explosions and contamination. That's why the town's opposition is near unanimous.

The plan for a $43 million compressor station to be built by NiSource over-rides the town's pre-existing zoning along with the wishes of over 90% of its citizens says Pramilla Malick of Stop MCS, a local grassroots organization which works with the Minisink community. Eight hundred people have registered critical comments with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which regulates pipelines. The compressor station, which if constructed would abut the property of a 9/11 widow, would generate high decibel noise 24/7 and emit the same carcinogenic and neurotoxic chemicals which a 2010 Colorado School of Public Health study found increased cancer levels near gas drilling sites.

Further, pipelines have a record of dangerous explosions. "A 2010 explosion in San Bruno, California cost eight lives and destroyed dozens of homes and properties," says Clare Donohue, the director of SANE, the pipeline opposition advocacy group based in NYC. In the last month, "Four homes went up in flames and collapsed in charred heaps" in Sissonville, West Virginia after a natural gas line "exploded in an inferno that raged for at least an hour, melting guardrails and pavement on a swath of Interstate 77," it was reported on the Huffington Post. No one perished because the explosion occurred during the middle of the day, a time when, "They were just lucky enough not to be home," said WV Governor Earl Ray Tomblin.

The risk of explosion is increased by the speed of gas transport. As slated for the Neversink segment of the pipeline, the velocity will "clearly exceed prudent design standards and safety margins ... (necessary) to avoid gas transmission pipeline rupture," said engineer Richard Kuprewicz who reviewed the plans. Using "such high actual gas velocities for a natural gas transmission pipeline raise serious questions... Project is a poor proposal and should be rejected," he recommended. A nearby location in a less populated area, which the townspeople have proposed for the compressor station is a "solution that does not risk public health and safety," says NY State Senator Tony Avella in a letter to FERC officials.

Nevertheless, in early December, and with two commissioners dissenting, FERC issued a final order denying the citizens' requests. Pipeline construction to Minisink is now under way. Minisink residents plan to appeal the decision says the grassroots group, Stop the Minisink Compressor Station. "If some foreign group were threatening to expose Americans to these dangers it would be called terrorism," notes 9/11 survivor and Minisink resident Nick Russo. With few emergency response resources in the area, Senator Avella contends that "our firefighters assume enough risk. ... placing them at risk of harm from fire, explosion, or exposure to hazardous materials [is] unconscionable."

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