A Boston University professor said he began a hunger strike to oppose a controversial Weymouth natural gas compressor station and demand greater public health and environmental protections during construction.
Nathan G. Phillips began his protest Jan. 29 against the station, which is being built by a subsidiary of energy giant Enbridge.
His hunger strike is part of a years-long effort by opponents to block the project, arguing the property is polluted and too small for the work.
“No one is giving up or going away. We are going to increase and escalate [opposition] until we shut down the compressor station,” Phillips said in a phone interview Monday. “We’ve never wavered from that goal.”
Phillips and other opponents have also criticized Governor Charlie Baker and the state Department of Environmental Protection for not doing enough to ensure public health is protected and to limit the environmental impact of the station.
Phillips said he won’t end the hunger strike until the state takes steps to ensure that dump trucks hauling material from the site undergo decontamination procedures, that the DEP commence comprehensive testing for asbestos in furnace bricks and coal ash at the site, and that the Baker administration have an air quality monitor installed at the site.
The DEP will meet Friday with representatives of a local group, Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station, to discuss concerns about the project, according to an agency spokeswoman in a statement. The DEP is working with the city of Weymouth on the placement of the air quality monitor.
During the governor’s Jan. 23 appearance on WGBH-FM’s “Boston Public Radio,” Baker pledged support for the air quality measure: “We are in full support of getting that air monitor in place, period.”
Max Bergeron, an Enbridge spokesman, said in a statement to the Globe Tuesday that the company was proceeding with construction activities for the station “with public health and safety as our priority,” and in compliance with a release abatement plan and applicable regulations.
Phillips said the hunger strike is part of "the process of catalyzing wide-spread public awareness and outrage at the injustice going on.”
His regimen during the hunger strike is to avoid consuming virtually any calories. He relies instead on plenty of water; plain, unsweetened hot tea; and a multivitamin.
“I’ve learned that sea salt in tea, at least certain kinds of tea, makes a wonderfully satisfying broth, almost like a soup,” he said. “That’s the extent of what I take into my body.”
In the first six days of the hunger strike, he said he dropped 10 pounds, and his weight was about 173.
Phillips, 53, lives in Newton with his wife and two children, and has taught at Boston University since 2000.
He still rides a bicycle the 9 miles between his home the university, though he has opted for an e-bike that offers assistance with pedaling during the strike.
In November, the Federal Energy Regulator Commission granted Enbridge-subsidiary Algonquin Gas Transmission, LLC’s request to begin construction of the station on a 4-acre property along the Fore River.
The Weymouth station is part of a larger project to distribute high-pressure gas into Maine and Canada.
During construction trucks are inspected before leaving, and a paved road leading to the site is swept on a regular basis, according to Enbridge’s statement. A qualified inspector collected brick samples at “representative locations across the work area” where material that potentially contains asbestos was observed, according to the statement.
“The brick samples were analyzed by an accredited laboratory, and no asbestos was detected,” the statement said.
Alice Arena, the executive director of Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station, said in a phone interview Tuesday she was grateful for Phillips’s advocacy against the station. Opponents want the Weymouth station project stopped, Arena said.
“We want the governor to stand up and say there are so many issues with this station, [that] we are going to put a halt on construction,” she said.
The opposition group has protested at the site, and in December four demonstrators who blocked truck access to the site were arrested on charges of trespassing and disturbing the peace, according to the Norfolk district attorney’s office. Those charges were later reduced to civil infractions.
Arena has called on opponents of the gas station project to contact Baker’s office and the DEP.
“It’s unfortunate that it has come to something like this for the DEP and Governor Baker to start really paying attention after five long years,” Arena said.
Danny McDonald of the Globe staff contributed to this report.
John Hilliard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.