State: New toxins data don’t change stance on Weymouth gas facility

Hearing on compressor station scheduled to resume next week


DESPITE CONCEDING that a handful of samples showed concentrations of toxins above standard limits, state regulators believe a new batch of air-quality data does not change the conclusions that greenlit a controversial proposed natural gas compressor station.

Both the Department of Environmental Protection and Department of Public Health reviewed the new data, which tested for 25 more toxins than an initial analysis, and decided it “does not change the baseline health profile or warrant review of additional health outcome data” at the site of the proposed facility, according to a DEP analysis posted online Friday.

The revelation of the new data in May upended an appeal hearing challenging energy giant Enbridge’s air-quality permit for the project. The hearing had been scheduled to conclude last month, but the DEP informed parties in the case just before the start of the final day that they had received more than 700 pages of new testing data from the site. As a result, the case’s adjudicator criticized the department and decided to extend the hearing.

The DEP’s analysis, which the department sent to parties Friday but does not plan to add to the official case record, comes just three days before the hearing will resume to allow discussion of the update.

Opponents of the facility have argued that changes reflected by the new data show that the proposed compressor station’s location, near the Fore River in a densely populated part of Weymouth, already has high levels of pollution and therefore should not be exposed to additional toxins from the facility’s operations.

However, the DEP said that the new air-quality tests only detected one toxin, the carcinogen 1,3-butadiene, at levels above regulated limits. Only four out of 42 samples showed elevated levels, the department said, and concentrations were “typical of background in developed areas” such as Boston and Lynn.

“MassDEP evaluated the new data and determined that it does not change the overall findings or recommendations of the (health impact assessment), including the finding that estimated air emissions from the proposed compressor station are not likely to cause health effects through direct exposure because estimated air emissions do not exceed daily or annual health-protective standards or guidelines,” the department wrote.

Gov. Charlie Baker ordered the health impact assessment in 2017 amid concerns over the facility’s impacts. Data was collected by the state, and the Metropolitan Area Planning Council — which later announced opposition to the project on separate environmental and public-safety grounds — was contracted to complete the final report.

Last month, after the new data was released, the MAPC said the air-quality permit should be “reconsidered” if an updated analysis showed toxins above healthy limits. The organization also warned that the assessment’s initial conclusions “cannot be assumed to hold if new information comes forth.”

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Reached Friday for comment, an MAPC spokeswoman referred to the previous statement and said the group would also “look to DPH and DEP for their expertise regarding data and assessment.”

It remains unclear whether the DEP will face additional punishment for the delay in alerting parties in the appeal case to the existence of the new data.Hearing officer Jane Rothchild called the wait “simply not fair.”

Department staff knew in April that tests for additional toxins could be done, particularly after similar samples sent to Rhode Island revealed different results. They requested the update from private lab Alpha Analytical on May 2, received the full results by May 13, and shared the information with attorneys for Enbridge and for the appeal group — comprising both residents and the communities of Weymouth, Quincy, Hingham and Braintree — on May 16.