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Brockton

State to install station to monitor city’s air quality

The state is installing an air-quality monitoring station near Brockton’s Gilmore School, a move aimed at ensuring residents of the heavily populated, and largely industrial, section are not being exposed to unacceptable levels of pollution.

Monday’s announcement during a City Hall ceremony outlined a plan to track fine particulate matter in the air at Buckley Playground on Clinton Street. Readings will be taken on an hourly basis around the clock, officials said, and the data will then be posted on a state website so residents can check on the levels themselves.

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The plan was lauded by many, including Mayor Linda Balzotti, who was among officials who had asked that such a monitoring program be implemented on the city’s south side.

A former Gilmore student, Balzotti is also a fierce opponent of a proposed 350-megawatt gas-fired power plant that Advanced Power AG and Siemens Corp. have proposed for a site on Oak Hill Way.

Balzotti said she has heard clearly the concerns of nearby residents who fear for their health. Such worries were heightened following a 2009 state report that said Brockton was one of six cities with higher-than-average pediatric asthma levels and other asthma-related maladies, she said.

“Each and every resident of our city has the right to breathe clean air and enjoy a healthy quality of life, and I have taken my role in preserving those rights very seriously,’’ Balzotti said.

Rick Sullivan, the state secretary for energy and environmental affairs, announced the real-time monitoring station during a brief ceremony in City Hall. He was accompanied by the Department of Environmental Protection’s commissioner, Kenneth Kimmell, and other state and local officials.

Sullivan said the $100,000 needed for the station came from a surplus in the Massachusetts Transportation Trust Fund, which is the repository for the $29 fee for annual motor vehicle inspections, he said. If all goes according to plan, installation will occur this spring, he said.

“When this station is activated, the results from this monitor will appear quickly on the MassDEP website, giving Brockton residents greater access to air-quality information in their neighborhoods,” Sullivan said. “This was a promise made to Brockton, and a promise kept.”

The news was cautiously cheered by power plant opponents who have been fighting to keep the developers from moving forward. The plant initiative is tied up in the courts.

Ed Byers, an opponent who owns a salad-dressing manufacturing facility adjacent to the plant’s proposed location, said monitoring of fine air particles is sensible, but the state must also test for ozone, which contains volatile organic compounds, and nitrogen oxide.  

Both are emitted from the city’s major stationary sources of pollution on the south side, including the Thatcher Street landfill and the city’s waste-water treatment plant, which burns sludge, he said.

Byers said Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood, as an example of a community that is on top of such issues, has a real-time air monitor that measures for both PM 2.5, the scientific name for the fine particulate matter emitted at times by industrial operations, and ozone. The data can be read at www.airbeat.org.  

“Now that we have taken this crucial first step, I remain hopeful that in the future Secretary Sullivan, Mayor Balzotti, and our state representatives, among others, will fight to add the options that we need,’’ Byers said.

On Monday, Kimmel said the state’s readings show low levels of fine particulate matter in Brockton and across the state, thanks to technology improvements and state and federal limits on what is allowable for emissions, including that of gasoline and others fuels, among other reasons.

At least one power-plant supporter also welcomed the air-monitoring program: City Councilor at Large Todd Petti said he is hopeful that good air results will help push the project forward.

Sullivan later said no one should read anything about the power plant into Kimmel’s statement.

State officials said the Buckley Playground was chosen for the monitoring station because it is a “worst case” scenario location, where children congregate. Others said the site is appropriate since it is close to the Gilmore School, where a state reading of fine particulate matter found levels so high in 2009 that city health director Louis Tartaglia characterized the area as a “hot spot” of pollution.

At the time, Tartaglia said the power plant would only exacerbate the situation. On Monday, he said his feelings haven’t changed, and he questioned Kimmel’s statements that air quality in Brockton is well within state and federal limits.

Michele Morgan Bolton can be reached at michelebolton@live.com.
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