‘Toxic Tour’ Shows Neighborhood’s Pollution Problems

Presumptive Green Party presidential candidate Dr. Jill Stein spoke at the July 20 event in Providence. (Sophie Kasakove/ecoRI News)

Presumptive Green Party presidential candidate Dr. Jill Stein spoke at the July 20 event in Providence. (Sophie Kasakove/ecoRI News)

By SOPHIE KASAKOVE/ecoRI News contributor

PROVIDENCE — More than 70 local residents, indigenous leaders and activists gathered July 20 to demonstrate against National Grid’s proposed $180 million liquefied natural gas (LNG) facility at Fields Point. They were joined by presumptive Green Party presidential candidate Dr. Jill Stein.

The group was led in a “Toxic Tour” of the Port of Providence by No LNG in PVD activists Sherrie Anne Andre and Julian Rodriguez-Drix. The tour began at the controversial Rhode Island Recylced Metals facility. A host of environmental complaints have been filed against the Allens Avenue business since it began operating in 2009.

The next stop on the tour was Motiva Enterprises LLC, the largest fuel terminal in the Port of Providence. Rodriguez-Drix said the facility emitted a thousand pounds of toxic waste in 2014. He noted that fuel terminals in South Providence provide much of the fuel powering southern New England.

Just another block down Allens Avenue, the group arrived at Univar, where 3.3 million pounds of toxic chemicals such as chlorine, ammonium and formaldehyde are stored. The facility has a 14-mile hazard radius — the area that would need to be evacuated in the case of an accident at the plant.

The risks these facilities pose to the neighborhood is compounded by the risk posed by trucks, trains and ships that transport materials to and from these plants. For example, Andre noted that 2 million gallons of ethanol come through the city weekly on trains.

At the tour’s final stop — National Grid’s LNG storage tank and site of the proposed liquefaction facility — community members shared their thoughts on the area and their hopes for its future.

South Side resident Laura Perez, candidate for District 11 state representative, said, “There’s a long history of contention over the ownership of this land, since it was taken from Indian people 300 years ago for farming and again during World War II when it was taken for cheap building and industry.”

The fight over National Grid’s proposed LNG facility is just the latest iteration of an ongoing struggle fought by various marginalized communities over hundreds of years, she said.

Sheila Calderon, who grew up in Washington Park, shared her story of battling multiple sclerosis, which she was diagnosed with in 1992. “I don’t know if I got sick from breathing toxic fumes or living and working on contaminated land,” she said. “I wonder if anyone else’s health has been affected by these power plants.”

Stein, who received 0.5% of the vote in Rhode Island in the 2012 presidential election, spoke about the need to stop the construction of fossil-fuel infrastructure across the country.

“This is not a matter of choice, this is a matter of survival,” she said, quoting climatologist Jim Hansen’s findings that in a few decades climate-change-induced mass flooding will destroy ports across the world, many of which house fossil-fuel infrastructure like that in Providence.

Stein said the United States shouldn’t only seek to stop the construction of future infrastructure but should decommission existing infrastructure as well. “By 2030, we should be 100 percent wind, water and sun,” she said.

She spoke extensively about the relationship between natural-gas infrastructure and public health.

“Right now we have a ‘sick-care system’ that allows corporations to poison our air and our water, to feed us unhealthy food, and to occupy our transportation routes with these toxic and dangerous vehicles,” Stein said. “We pay $3 trillion a year to try to patch us up and we are only getting sicker ... one out of every two Americans will have a chronic illness.”

She then turned to Calderon, “When you raised the question: is your chronic illness related to exposure? No one is keeping track, because they don’t want to know.”

Stein shared her support for the work of local activists and indigenous peoples. “Indigenous rights and human rights go hand in hand with ecological survival,” she said. “When we allow ancestral people to be separated from their land, that is when we’re at the greatest risk for the exploitation of those lands, which hurts us all.”