Salem Harbor Station to shut down

by Guest Blogger

May 20, 2011

on the rainbow warrior

For the last 15 years, through my last years of teaching mathematics at Salem High School, through my husband’s long sickness, through my sons’ marriages and the births of my five grandchildren, through my husband’s death, one constant in my life has been to provide energy and impetus for HealthLink’s work to force the owner of the Salem Harbor Station to shut down.

It began on a dreary day in December, 1997 when I stood with friends of Norma Warren in her backyard on Washington Street in downtown Marblehead after her funeral. She had died of breast cancer within 8 months of a perfectly normal mammogram. She had no known risk factors. She exercised, didn’t smoke and ate healthily. That day the local newspapers reported that the Massachusetts Cancer Registry had found an unusually high rate of three cancers in Marblehead.

As we stood in a circle in her yard, my friend Linda Weltner mentioned how brave Norma had been. And she offered bitterly, “Why should we have to be brave? Why can’t we be safe? We have a right to trust the air we breathe and the water we drink.” Those words lit a spark that dark afternoon. We all felt a strong energy force surge around me. And words came out of my mouth: “I’ll clean up the power plant!” In my living room and later in an office in downtown Marblehead, we crafted an idealistic and general mission statement: “To protect and improve public health by reducing and eliminating pollutants and toxic substances from our environment through research, education and community action.” We came up with the name “HealthLink” and filed with the IRS for nonprofit status. We met in a Salem living room and then took our knowledge out into local communities … we called these informative meetings our “road show.”

In May 2000, we had new ammunition: the Harvard School of Public Health released a study titled “Estimated Public Health Impacts of Criteria Pollutant Air Emissions from the Salem Harbor and Brayton Point Power Plants.” It found that two of Massachusetts’s dirtiest coal- and oil-burning plants, Salem Harbor and Brayton Point, released enough toxins to cause 53 premature deaths, 570 emergency-room visits, and 14,400 asthma attacks each year throughout New England.

Lori Ehrlich – now a state representative in Massachusetts – connected with Erin Brockovich against our common enemy – PG&E – and we used many tactics to point out their intransience: placing black silhouettes of bodies in front of the corporate headquarters, buying shares in PG&E so we could attend and speak out at shareholders’ meetings, holding our own Stakeholders’ meeting, and many other public meetings. When PG&E sold the plant to Dominion, we continued the same tactics. We stood in front of the power plant at the Cancer Walk every year from 1998 to 2004 with signs that read, “You walk for a cure. We stand for prevention. “ and “Carcinogens emitted here.”

When Greenpeace’s Rainbow Warrior visited Salem, we presented a demand letter to the plant owner while Greenpeace activists climbed the coal pile inHazMat suits with signs that read “Global Warming Starts Here.” We went to Washington and held a rally for clean air at the Lincoln Memorial. We need to be realistic about the forces that persuade our government officials to listen and craft rules and laws. Special interests pay an army of well-trained, highly paid lobbyists to work full time for the profit of those large corporations.

Each of us, individually, is puny. But I know that when people organize and speak in harmony with one voice we are powerful. In the fifteen years that it took for the owners of the Salem Harbor Station to stop profiting from their exemption from clean air standards, three men died in an explosion at the poorly-maintained plant and about 300 people died prematurely from the plant’s filthy, sooty air emissions.

But I and others in the environmental community persisted. The shutting of Salem Harbor is a harbinger of the future for dirty coal; it is time to transition to clean, sustainable energy sources, conservation, and efficiency. This is a great victory, but we all have more work to do!

Lynn Nadeau, Co-founder and Treasurer of HealthLink.

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