Home Sick from Toxic Emissions

How emissions from a toxic gas compressor led one family to abandon their house amid health concerns.

  • Gas Compressor
    200 homes are within a half mile of the Minisink compressor.
    Photo by Fotolia/ed_danilow

  • Gas Compressor

In June, Leanne and Rob Baum and their four children abandoned their house in Minisink, New York, leaving it to the bank holding the mortgage and oversight by a friend.  Ominous symptoms from emissions of a 12,600-horsepower gas compressor built in their rural neighborhood two years before by Millennium Pipeline, LLC, prompted their decision, said Leanne Baum. After six months on the market they had no offers on their house, and selling to another family felt morally questionable.

“Once you know, you can’t un-know about the hazards,” she said. “I hoped no one would be interested.”

No one was, and others in the neighborhood negotiated with “lowball offers” to sell their houses in the once quiet rural community after a year on the market, Baum said.

The Baums had bought their four-bedroom house for $374,000, and invested about $250,000 in payments and improvements during their nine years there. In addition to putting in hardwood floors, lighting upgrades, a family room, wood stove, and patio, they had landscaped two acres. Their apple, cherry, and peach trees, gardens and greenhouse yielded produce they ate, preserved, and gave away to friends. They sold raspberry jam at a farmers’ market and drank wine made from grapes they grew.

But in those last two years, they lost interest in gardening. Rob Baum had begun waking up with headaches that went away when he arrived at work, though his office was dusty, low ceilinged, and lit by fluorescent lights, said Leanne. Her eyes became too irritated to tolerate contact lenses, and she noticed her children had become “lethargic.” Although they were accustomed to playing imaginary games outside, where they had a treehouse and trampoline, the Baums began to wonder if that was a good idea, with the  toxic emissions from the compressor. “OSHA (Occupational Safety and Healthy Administration) regulations for the workplace are more stringent than for compressors,” said Leanne. “And that’s for a six-foot male, not for kids whose metabolisms are faster.”

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Even some of the Baums’ fruit trees looked sickly, as environmental health consultant David Brown noticed when he visited while doing a health survey of 35 residents living within 1.5 kilometers of the compressor.  Brown, former chief of environmental epidemiology and occupational health in Connecticut, and his cohorts at Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project found that residents exhibited a pattern of symptoms that increased when emissions surged in the neighborhood, as measured by particulate matter monitors and air samples during “odor events.”

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