Emerging Climate and Health Threats of Fossil Fuels

As health care professionals, we understand that a key step to treating a disease is recognizing its cause.

The burning and extraction of fossil fuels is a key driver of climate change. Pouring vast amounts of carbon dioxide and methane into the air leads to an array of effects including ocean warming, glacier melt and changes in the North Atlantic gulfstream. These changes in turn drive extreme weather events, from apocalyptic wildfires to severe heat waves and drought. These changes represent a crisis because they have dire health consequences.

Fossil fuel combustion is responsible not only for the dangerously rising levels of carbon dioxide but also for other air pollutants, like health-damaging PM 2.5 and oxides of nitrogen. Years of evidence and clinical experience show that burning fossil fuels has direct, harmful impacts on health.

Particulate matter air pollution and ground level ozone produced by fossil fuel extraction and burning are associated with increased heart, lung and neurologic diseases such as heart attack, COPD, asthma exacerbations and stroke. They are also linked to increases in cancers. These translate into billions of dollars in excess health costs and lost labor not only in this country but worldwide.

Health Harms of Fossil Fuel Infrastructure

Natural gas infrastructure in Massachusetts is harming communities in many ways:

  • It damages health due to air, water and soil pollution;
  • It poses serious safety concerns;
  • It poses important climate risks;
  • It disproportionately affects environmental justice communities.

Air, water and soil pollution. Natural gas infrastructure pollutes water, like the vernal pools in Otis National Forest in western Massachusetts; when it is burned or leaks into the air, it is a significant contributor to air pollution, which leads to increased rates of asthma, COPD, stroke and heart attacks. When it leaks from rusted and decaying pipelines into the soil, it replaces oxygen and leads to tree death (Emerald Necklace, Boston). Because trees act as a huge carbon sink, a place where carbon dioxide can be safely stored and turned back into oxygen, and also absorb air pollutants and protect against extreme heat, their loss exacerbates climate disruption and associated health harms.

Safety. Oil and gas pipelines are at risk for explosion. The gas pipeline explosions in the Merrimack Valley in 2018 caused over 80 fires and killed a teenage boy. The construction of this infrastructure ever closer to schools and densely populated areas — as in the case of the Weymouth compressor station — increases the risks.

Climate effects.  While coal and diesel represent the chief drivers of the increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide, methane gas extraction and industrial agricultural practices are driving the recent increase in methane. Methane has increased to 250% of pre-industrial levels, with most of that increase in the past 10 years  due to oil and gas development. Since the greenhouse gas warming effect of methane is much higher than that of carbon dioxide and its half life in the atmosphere — 10-12 years — orders of magnitude shorter, reducing the voluntary and involuntary leakage and burning of methane has the potential to rapidly improve human health by slowing climate disruption.

Environmental justice effects. The communities living in the shadow of fossil fuel infrastructure are already saddled with a high burden of legacy pollutants from existing industrial infrastructure and chronic disease. Often these are “environmental justice” communities: communities that are low-income, immigrant, communities of color, or all three.  These communities suffer more than others from the cancer, respiratory and neurologic diseases that result from legacy pollution. The increased air pollution, toxins and carbon emissions generated by the ever-expanding fossil fuel infrastructure in their midst adds to these already high disease rates.

GBPSR Reports on Health Impacts of Natural Gas

Greater Boston PSR is committed to addressing the serious health risks posed by natural gas infrastructure. In the case of the Weymouth compressor station, we have visited the site, met with local fire rescue officials, participated in public meetings, met with officials at the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs and the Department of Public Health. We have published three in-depth reports on the health, safety, environmental justice and climate risks of this compressor station.

GBPSR advocates to the Massachusetts government and state agencies, asking them to listen to our local communities and to act to protect human health, especially the health of our most vulnerable residents.

Pfas A Risk To Health

PFAS: A Risk to Health

White paper from Greater Boston PSR on the health risks of PFAS (per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances).

Hydrogen Pipe Dreams

Hydrogen Pipe Dreams: Why Burning Hydrogen in Buildings Is Bad for Climate and Health

Blending hydrogen with methane (“natural”) gas in our gas stoves and furnaces is dangerous and would accelerate climate change.


Greater Boston PSR’s testimony to the EPA

GBPSR testimony on proposed oil and natural gas rule.


GBPSR Comments to FERC RE: Priorities of ISO-New England

Official GBPSR comments to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission urging ISO-New England to prioritize wind and solar over coal, gas, and oil.


Heat Pumps Are the Healthy Choice

Flyer on the health benefits of heat pumps from Greater Boston PSR.

Testimony and Letters

Letter To Braintree Town Council, Continued Concerns
Letter to Braintree Town Councilor Elizabeth Maglio
Letter to Braintree Town Council
February 2023
GBPSR calls for root cause analysis of the February 16th explosions at the Clean Harbors facility in Braintree by DEP and Environmental Crimes Division, Attorney General's office

Letter to FERC Urging Halt in Operations
January 25, 2021
Letter from Dr. Philip Landrigan urging a halt in operations of the compressor station in Weymouth.

Request to FERC to Halt Construction, Order Additional Health Impacts Review
Sep 17, 2020
Letter to FERC from GBPSR and partner groups on recent gas leak at compressor site.

Letter of Support for Nathan Phillips
Jan 29, 2020
Letter to Gov. Charlie Baker expressing support for the demands Dr. Nathan Phillips, who has initiated a hunger strike in opposition to the project.

Letter to Gov. Baker
Dec 19, 2019
Letter from Greater Boston PSR to Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker re Enbridge Environmental Health Violations.

Request for Congressional Hearings on Weymouth
Dec 13, 2019
Greater Boston PSR, Boston College, and Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station submitted this request for an emergency hearing by the Committee on Energy and Commerce of the U.S. House of Representatives

Dr. Regina LaRocque Statement
November 1, 2019
Statement from Greater Boston PSR’s Dr. Regina LaRocque from the Nov. 1 GBPSR rally against the proposed compressor station. Watch the video below.

Warren, Markey, and Lynch Letter to Enbridge
October 8, 2019
Sen. Warren, Sen. Markey and Rep. Lynch use Greater Boston PSR as a source in their letter to Enbridge in regards to the proposed Weymouth compressor station.

GBPSR Letter to House Chair Linsky
October 7, 2019
Greater Boston PSR letter to House Committee on Post Audit and Oversight Chair David Paul Linsky, asking the committee to open formal legislative hearings into the air quality permit process for the proposed compressor station.

GBPSR Letter to Senate Chair Keenan
October 7, 2019
Greater Boston PSR letter to Senate Committee on Post Audit and Oversight Chair John Keenan, asking the committee to open formal legislative hearings into the air quality permit process for the proposed compressor station.

Letter to DEP from Philip J. Landrigan, MD, MSc, FAAP
October 5, 2019
Dr. Philip Landrigan, Director of the Program in Global Public Health and the Common Good at Boston College, wrote this letter to the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection expressing strong opposition to the proposed compressor station.

Greater Boston PSR Opposes Dangerous New Methane (“Natural Gas”) Infrastructure Plans
June 27, 2019
News update

Greater Boston PSR Calls for Governor Baker to Extend Air Quality Appeal for Proposed Weymouth Compressor Station
May 20, 2019
Press release

Compressor station threatens Weymouth’s health and safety
April 12, 2019
Op-ed in The Patriot Ledger by Greater Boston PSR’s Anna Linakis Baker and Dr. Regina LaRocque.

GBPSR letter to Governor Baker
March 28, 2019
Greater Boston PSR sent this letter to Governor Charlie Baker on the proposed siting of compressor station in Weymouth, stating that the compressor station would pose an immediate threat to the health of the community.

Video: Boston College Press Conference with Presentations From Public Health Experts
May 13, 2019
Public health experts presented on the public health dangers of the proposed compressor station in Weymouth.

Greater Boston PSR Challenges State’s Health Impact Assessment
January 12, 2019
GBPSR press release in response to the Health Impact Assessment (HIA) released in early January 2019 by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health of the proposed natural gas compressor station in the Town of Weymouth.

Greater Boston PSR Letter to Mass DEP on Air-Quality Monitoring in the Fore River Basin
December 10, 2018
Greater Boston PSR Board Chair Dr. Matthew Bivens sent this letter to the Massachusetts Department of Health Air Assessment Branch asking for additional air-quality monitoring in the Fore River Basin.

GBPSR Letter on Proposed Natural Gas Compressor Station in Weymouth, MA
November 7, 2018
Greater Boston PSR’s Steering Committee sent this letter to the Massachusetts Department of Health regarding the health impact assessment for the Weymouth Natural Gas Compressor Station.