24-Hour Air Quality Test Results

Results from the 24-hour air quality testing are now available.

To expand upon data that had been collected in and around the Fore Basin (read more here), local residents organized 24-hour testing at the compressor site, as well three other locations in Braintree and Weymouth. Testing was conducted in April and June of this year. Analysis of the data was completed by Environmental Analytical Service, Inc., a certified lab in California.  FRRACS received grant funding from the Island Foundation to pay for the testing.

Lack of involvement from state and federal agencies has forced local residents to conduct air quality testing in and around the Fore River Basin on their own. Congressman Lynch recently stated that he will be asking the EPA to conduct testing at the site. We hope that the EPA will agree to do more testing and we will work to ensure that it is done in a transparent manner. 

WGBH spoke with Dr. Curt Nordgaard, Councilor Haugh, and others about the efforts to measure air pollution in and around the Basin. You can read the article here.

Air pollution and its regulation:
The EPA regulates two categories of air pollution under the Clean Air Act:
1. Criteria Air Pollutants: Particulate matter, ozone, nitrogen and sulfur oxides, lead, and carbon monoxide
2. Hazardous Air Pollutants (HAPs): Benzene, formaldehyde, and 185 other harmful pollutants
EPA develops standards for Criteria Air Pollutants. These are enforceable regulations under the Clean Air Act. Most HAPs do not have an enforceable standard. The EPA instead regulates most HAPs indirectly by setting performance standards for the most polluting industries.
Some states, like Massachusetts, have set guidelines for what are considered safe limits for HAPs. These guidelines are not enforceable regulations, but are meant to help protect human health.

Testing methods:
An approved method, that is recommended by the EPA (Method TO-15), is used to test for HAPs. A specialized canister is rented from an environmental testing company and used to collect a continuous air sample for 24 hours. The canister is returned to the company, who then measures the concentrations of HAPs in the air sample. The 24-hour measurements are then compared to the Massachusetts 24-hour guideline (Threshold Effect Exposure Limit, or TEL) for any detected HAPs.

As of July 2017, four sites have been tested in the Fore River Basin (see data and map below) for 24-hour measurements. Three of the four canisters demonstrated violations of MassDEP TEL guidelines. Some HAPs were only detected in one or two of the tests. Others, like benzene, were in violation for three canisters.

Some conclusions:
1 Air quality in Braintree and Weymouth already violates the benzene guideline, even before the compressor station is built. This includes a sample collected at the proposed site itself.
2 Three of four tests had concentrations of xylenes and toluene that were higher than the maximum reading at MassDEP testing sites in Boston and Lynn (113 times more toluene in North Weymouth than in Boston).
3 In the small sample, 75% of testing days had benzene violations and 50% were higher than the maximum reading in Boston.
4 Three of the HAPs that are in violation of the MassDEP TEL guideline would also be released
by Spectra's compressor station and make these violations worse: Benzene, xylenes, and toluene.

Prepared by Curtis L Nordgaard, MD MSc on behalf of Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station

24-Hour Test Results

VOC Violations:

Map of Testing Sites:


Benzene, a volatile organic compound (VOC), found in gasoline, oil, and natural gas, as well as exhaust from burning these fuels, was found at levels that violate MassDEP 24-hour guidelines at three sites.

Summary of other Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) Measured:

  • Acetone
    • Known to be extremely flammable. 
    • Often used for cleaning and degreasing and can be found in the manufacturing of plastics, fibers, drugs, and other chemicals.
    • It was measured at levels more than 6 times the MassDEP 24-hour guideline, at the Cotton Ave. location in Braintree.
  • Toluene
    • A clear, colorless liquid with a distinctive smell.
    • It is naturally occurring in crude oil and is a byproduct in the process of making gasoline and other fuels from crude oil. Also often used in the making of paints, paint thinners, fingernail polish,  benzene, nylon, plastics, and more.
    • Can cause headaches, dizziness, unconsciousness, as well as nervous system impacts. 
    • Toluene was measured at levels more than 5 times the MassDEP 24-hour guideline, at the Evans street location. Evans Street is located within a half-mile of the proposed site.
  • 2-butanone (MEK)
    • It is used in production of synthetic rubber, paraffin wax, household products, as well as other materials.
    • Short-term effects include irritation to the eyes, nose, and throat.
    • It was measured at levels more than 2 times the MassDEP 24-hour guideline, at the Cotton Ave. location in Braintree.
  • Methylene Chloride
    • Often used in adhesives, paint and coating products, pharmaceuticals, metal cleaning, chemical processing, and aerosols.
    • Short-term exposure can result in harm to the central nervous system. Long-term exposure can cause liver or lung cancer.
    • Methylene Chloride was measured at levels more than 33 times the MassDEP 24-hour guideline, at the Cotton Ave. location in Braintree.
  • 2-hexanone (MBK)
    • It is found as a waste product from industrial activities, such as producing wood pulp and gas from coal.
    • Exposure can have impacts on the nervous system.
    • It was measured at levels nearly 15 times the MassDEP 24-hour guideline, at the Cotton Ave. location in Braintree.
  • Carbon disulfide
    • It is known to catch fire easily and easily explodes in air.
    • When exposed to large amounts, it can affect the normal functions of the brain, liver, and heart.
    • It was measured at levels 57 times the MassDEP 24-hour guideline, at the Bridge St. location in Weymouth. This is the same location as the proposed compressor site.

Sources: EPA.gov and atsdr.cdc.gov.

In comparison to Boston Levels

The measured amounts of benzene, toluene, and total xylenes exceeded the maximum levels found in Boston.

The results of the testing have been shared with officials at MassDEP. Community members plan to continue more testing.