A Boston University professor has ended his two-week-long hunger strike he launched to spur action at the Weymouth compressor station site on what activists say are public health and safety violations.
Nathan Phillips capped his 14-day strike Tuesday under “kind but firm advice” from a doctor, while taking his family and his obligations to his students into consideration, he told Boston.com Thursday.
He had his first meal on Wednesday and is doing well.
“I’m feeling kind of back to normal — actually surprisingly back to normal,” he said.
Phillips kicked off the strike on Jan. 29 with hopes state officials would heed his calls for action on testing for asbestos and installing air monitoring and vehicle decontamination measures as construction is underway on the controversial facility.
The compressor station is part of Enbridge’s “Atlantic Bridge Project”: a natural gas pipeline that runs through New England and into Canada. The facility is needed to boost capacity on existing pipeline systems, the company says.
A vocal opponent of the project alongside the local community group, Fore River Residents Against Compressor Station (FRRACS), Phillips said his strike became necessary to shed light on “the injustice that’s playing out in the Fore River basin” after all legal and regulatory stages of the project had run their course and work commenced in December.
“The demands that I had for my hunger strike — we have made some progress,” Phillips said at a press conference Tuesday, WBUR reports. “Yet the reason for my action was to put the spotlight on (environmental justice) and on the officials that are accountable and responsible. I think, and I hope, we’ve reached a tipping point in public awareness.”
Although the strike is over, there’s still work to be done, according to Phillips.
While FRRACS met with the state Department of Environmental Protection last Friday to talk over the issues, only one of Phillips initial demands has seen traction, he said.
Craig Gilvarg, a spokesman for the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, said in a statement Thursday the DEP has installed a temporary air monitoring station in the Fore River area and is now gathering data.
“The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection remains committed to ensuring that activities at the site of a compressor station in Weymouth meet all state environmental requirements,” Gilvarg said.
The DEP is working to finalize a site for a permanent station, he said.
“Even there, it’s a start, but it’s not occurring with the urgency that the situation demands,” Phillips said in an interview.
Phillips said activists were told that air quality testing results would not arrive until July.
“It takes us four days to make those measurements ourselves, so July is not acceptable,” he said.
He and others still have concerns over how crews have handled digging at the site, too, specifically asbestos testing for the furnace bricks and coal ash that make up the manmade fill. To date, no asbestos test data has been released, Phillips said.
Additionally, he has concerns over ensuring that the site has effective vehicle decontamination measures so work trucks do not spread any of those materials on roadways, he said. He’s calling on the state to stop all digging below 18 inches until testing results are released.
Max Bergeron, an Enbridge spokesperson, said in a statement that the company is in compliance with plans and regulations and is proceeding with construction “with public health and safety as our priority.”
“The sampling of the bricks at the Weymouth compressor station site was performed by a qualified inspector, in accordance with the Massachusetts Asbestos Inspection protocols, and has been deemed representative of the brick present in the area of work,” Bergeron said. “The brick samples were analyzed by an accredited laboratory, and no asbestos was detected.”
According to the DEP, department personnel have been at the site at least four times within the last two weeks to inspect the digging and conditions, and have not found any violations. The department will continue regular, unannounced inspections of the site, officials said.
“The department continues to provide oversight of the assessment and cleanup activities,” Gilvarg said.
Moving forward, Phillips said opponents of the project must “accelerate and intensify the spotlight that there could be no cover up of this asbestos issue” and that the community remains united in stopping the project, no matter where in the process it stands.
“We’re determined to shut this facility down,” he said. “We’re not going to stop until it is shut down.”