Category Archives: Public health

Covid-2019 epidemic trends: U.S. and Massachusetts

The following U.S. map, prepared by John Hopkins University researchers Holm and Forster, also distributed by Associated Press, shows prevalence of death from Covid-2019 by county, as reported to state and federal public health agencies through April 16, 2020.

U.S. county death rates from Covid-2019, through April 16, 2020

Covid-2019UsCountyPrevalence20200416

Source: Holm and Forster, John Hopkins University

The New York Times publishes its own estimates of cases and deaths attributed to Covid-2019 by states. The following table shows the ten most severely affected states, ranked by cases of illness per thousand state residents, as estimated for the about the same date as the foregoing U.S. map reflected.

Covid-2019 illnesses and deaths by states, April 17, 2020

State Illness count per 1,000 residents Death count per 1,000 residents
New York 229,642 11.8 12,822 0.66
New Jersey 78,467 8.8 4,840 0.43
Massachusetts 34,402 5.0 1,404 0.20
Louisiana 23,118 5.0 1,213 0.26
Michigan 29,952 3.0 2,226 0.22
Pennsylvania 30,121 2.4 1,027 0.08
Illinois 27,575 2.2 1,142 0.09
Florida 24,745 1.2 726 0.03
California 29,398 0.7 1,050 0.03
Texas 18,191 0.6 461 0.02

Source: New York Times, April 17, 2020

As the map shows and the table reflects, Massachusetts has developed one of the worst Covid-2019 epidemics of any state, just short of New Jersey and New York. Gov. Baker has taken criticism for issuing orders as public advisories rather than in forms enforceable by State Police. However, data for the spread of the state’s epidemic tend to show that Baker’s approach is working to some degree, although the state remains at high rates of cases and deaths, as reported daily.

Covid-2019 trends, Massachusetts, through April 16, 2020

MassachusettsCovid-2019EpidemicData20200417

Source: analysis of Massachusetts daily Covid-2019 data

The blue trend curve shows the slope of a semilograrithmic plot of cumulative cases versus epidemic days. The steep initial portion shows a rapidly growing epidemic, in which doubling time of the case load is shrinking. Day one is chosen to be the first day with a cumulative total of 20 or more reported deaths: March 26, 2020. Two days earlier, Gov. Baker issued his first restrictive order: that “non-essential” businesses close. On Day 7, Baker issued a second restrictive order, expanding the list of business that should close. On Day 14, Baker issued a “grocery guidance,” describing how retail stores that continue to operate should install and conduct protective measures. The blue trend above is using five days spanning each point to calculate the slope of the logarithm of case counts, so it stops two days short. The red trend above shows that the cumulative mortality has been climbing, as victims of the disease die: from about one percent initially to near four percent.

Each advisory order from Gov. Baker was followed in five to seven days by a sustained reduction in the epidemic’s spread, shown by a drop in the slope of a plot of the logarithm of cumulative case count. While Massachusetts has made progress, a goal of ending the state’s epidemic is far from attainment. Over the past week, ending April 17, the state has been reporting averages of about 1,900 new Covid-2019 cases and 115 deaths from Covid-2019 per day. Many governors of states with severe epidemics are taking cautious approaches to relaxing restrictions. California has been notably cautious. Gov. Newsom issued a declaration of emergency March 4, 2020, well before Gov. Baker’s declaration of emergency on March 10. Collaborating with governors of Washington and Oregon, Gov. Newsom said they would use “science to guide our decision-making and not political pressure”–rejecting hasty actions being promoted by the Trump administration.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, April 18, 2020


Geoff Mulvihill, Lacking U.S. coordination, states team up on when to reopen, Associated Press, April 18, 2020

Coronavirus in the U.S.: latest map and case count, New York Times, April 17, 2020 (as found April 18, 2020)

Zeke Miller, Alan Suderman and Kevin Freking, Trump proposes plan to reopen economy, Associated Press, April 16, 2020 (includes U.S. map of Covid-2019 prevalence by county from Holm and Forster at John Hopkins University)

COVID-19 cases, Massachusetts Department of Public Health, for April 16, 2020

Patricia Wen, Massachusetts confirmed coronavirus cases by city and town, Boston Globe, April 15, 2020

Mark Arsenault, Massachusetts experts push back on university’s bleaker Covid-2019 forecast, Boston Globe, April 15, 2020

Liz Kreutz and Alix Martichoux, Newsom unveils plan to ease California stay-at-home restrictions amid coronavirus pandemic, ABC News, April 14, 2020

Press releases related to COVID-19, Massachusetts Office of the Governor, March and April, 2020

Declaration of a state of emergency to respond to COVID-19, Massachusetts Office of the Governor, March 10, 2020

Governor Newsom declares state of emergency to help state prepare for broader spread of COVID-19, California Office of the Governor, March 4, 2020

Hong Kong flu of 1968: patterns of an epidemic

The Hong Kong flu of 1968 and later years was the last major virus epidemic in the United States before the ongoing Wuhan virus epidemic, caused by the Covid-2019 virus first described in Wuhan, Hubei, China during late 2019, also known as SARS-CoV-2. The Hong Kong flu caused at least 100,000 fatal illnesses in the United States, among more than one million worldwide.

There are major problems characterizing an epidemic caused by a new virus, even using technology of molecular biology that had not yet been invented when the Hong Kong flu of 1968 struck.
• How reliably do laboratory tests identify and classify infections?
• How large a fraction of the population has been tested for infection?
• What fraction of infections have been missed or misclassified?
How often or seldom do infected people transmit infection?
• How often is death resulting from infection missed or misclassified?
• How long do virus deposits remain infectious in typical environments?
• How much viral dose is needed to cause an infection?
How much individual variation occurs in resistance to infection?
• Can infection and contagion occur without clinical symptoms?
• How much individual variation appears in severity of infection?
• Are infections or severe illness resulting from them seasonal?
• How reliable are antibodies as indicators of prior infections?
• Do infection and recovery confer immunity, or can disease reoccur?

Accurate answers to such questions often take years of research. Without answers, social measures to control an epidemic may misfire: costly but ineffective steps taken or simple and effective steps missed. Medical measures often take years of research as well. Vaccines against virus diseases can be highly effective, but they are usually difficult to develop. The first successful, strategically developed vaccine–against yellow fever–took more than 35 years after the classificatiobn of yellow fever as a viral disease in 1901. About 35 years after identification of HIV as the virus causing AIDS in 1985, there is still no safe and effective vaccine licensed by the U.S. government.

Contemporary news: Although the Hong Kong flu turned out to be about as deadly in the United States as the Wuhan virus is often predicted to become, in 1968 the Hong Kong flu did not draw a comparable public response. Writing in the New York Times, Jane E. Brody–then and now a featured writer on personal health–reported in 1968 that “Hong Kong flu gained a foothold…last week. To date, 28 states have reported attacks….” She did not cite case counts or express alarm. Currently Mrs. Brody, now a mother of two and a grandmother, is counseling readers about “managing coronavirus fears” although competing for today’s readers with thousands of other news writers who are stimulating fears. In 2020, she writes, “…it’s the bad news that gets the most attention….”

As Times reporter Brody noted in late 1968, U.S. labs produced about 5 million doses of a late-season vaccine for seasonal flu incorporating activity against the Hong Kong flu. Such a vaccine was possible because of more than 30 years of U.S. experience producing, testing and using flu vaccines. Around 1970, the United States typically produced about 30 million doses of flu vaccine per year, versus about 150 million doses per year recently. There is no comparable experience producing vaccines against a coronavirus, so that recent efforts toward such a vaccine start with a largely blank slate.

Following the patterns of other influenza strains, Hong Kong flu epidemics starting in 1968 and 1969 were seasonal: beginning in late fall and ending before the start of spring. The chart shows deaths in thousands per month from Hong Kong flu during its first two seasons in the United States.

Hong Kong flu deaths, U.S. 1968 and 1969 seasons

HongKongFlu1968-1969SeasonsUnitedStates

Source: Viboud et al., 2005

So far, disease caused by the Covid-2019 virus does not clearly appear seasonal, although the less than four months experience is too limited to be sure of that. In the United States, counts of cases were still rising in most places though the middle of April, 2020, when all records of the Hong Kong flu in the northern hemisphere show cases beginning to fall no later than February.

Contrasts: While the Wuhan virus epidemic seems to be following a similar pattern of surges and responses to controls worldwide, the Hong Kong flu did not. As Viboud and colleagues documented in 2005, Hong Kong flu epidemics followed different patterns in North America and in Europe and the Far East. In North America the first season was the stronger, while elsewhere the second season dominated. A factor these authors did not consider was U.S. vaccines targeting Hong Kong flu. It looks highly unlikely that vaccines targeting the Covid-2019 virus will be produced in time to arrest the first epidemics outside China, still accelerating as of mid-April, 2020. More likely, these epidemics will be controlled by social measures and by intensive testing to identify contagious carriers.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, April 15, 2020


Marc Lipsitch, Who is immune to the Covid-2019 virus?, New York Times, April 13, 2020

Jane E. Brody, Managing coronavirus fears, New York Times,April 13, 2020

Gina Kolata, Why are some people so much more infectious than others?, New York Times, April 12, 2020

Matthew Perrone, Fears of ‘Wild West’ as Covid-2019 blood tests hit the market, Associated Press, April 12, 2020

Christopher Murray, Forecasting Covid-2019 impact on hospital bed-days, ICU-days, ventilator days and deaths by U.S. state in the next four months, Medrxiv (Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory), submitted March 26, 2020

Xinguang Chen and Bin Yu, Coronavirus disease epidemic in China: real-time surveillance and evaluation with a second derivative model, Global Health Research and Policy 5(7), March 7, 2020

Seasonal influenza vaccine supply for the U.S. 2019-2020 influenza season, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, September 24, 2019

Douglas Jordan, Terrence Tumpey and Barbara Jester, Discovery and reconstruction of the 1918 pandemic virus, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, December 17, 2019

Timeline of HIV and AIDS, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2019

I. Barberis, P. Myles, S.K. Ault, N.L. Bragazzi and M. Martini, History and evolution of influenza control through vaccination: from the first monovalent vaccine to universal vaccines, Journal of Preventative Medicine and Hygeine 57(3):E115-E120, 2016

Errling Norby, Yellow fever and Max Theiler: the only Nobel Prize for a virus vaccine, Journal of Experimental Medicine 204(12):2779-2784, 2007

Cecile Viboud, Rebecca F. Grais, Bernard A. P. Lafont, Mark A. Miller and Lone Simonsen, Multinational impact of the 1968 Hong Kong influenza pandemic: evidence for a smoldering pandemic, Journal of Infectious Diseases 192(2):233-248, 2005

Jane E. Brody, Hong Kong flu attacks thousands here swiftly, New York Times, December 11, 1968

Rental electric scooters: high-pressure plans vent steam

Pressured by first-term member Heather Hamilton, during 2019 the Select Board of Brookline, MA pursued a lose-lose-lose proposition with rental electric scooters. Renting the lightly built vehicles in an impulse-driven market has proven unsustainable as a business, harmful to the environment and acutely hazardous for both customers and bystanders. (Shown left to right: Administrator Kleckner, Board members Heller, Greene, Hamilton, Fernandez, Franco)

Select Board of Brookline, June, 2019

BrooklineSelectBoard2019June

Source: Town of Brookline, MA

It’s hardly surprising to see business for rental electric scooters entering free-fall. Last year Verge reported industry experience that “scooters don’t bring in enough money to cover their cost.” Surveys found typical lifetimes of U.S. rental scooters only several months. Operating costs remain high. Every night staff collect scooters, charge them and return them near streets. Considering the trucks and vans used and the short operating lives, total air pollution per mile of rental electric scooter use ranks higher than many automobiles.

Peaking during 2018, venture capital staked near $2 billion on U.S. rental scooters. Business plans never passed “smell tests.” Finances for rental scooters skirt the extremes of the U.S. “ride share” business, including Uber and Lyft, with no firm in the entire sector reporting a profit. Local operations for Lime and Bird have had large layoffs and have abandoned host communities. Some firms still in business are nearing collapse as their cash burns through.

Unlike automobiles, electric scooters are not very costly or hard to keep. Most riders who find them useful can afford a few hundred dollars to buy one and can find places to keep it. Rental firms often can expect only a few rides before a customer either quits riding or buys a scooter. Rental scooters survive mainly as novelties, appealing to young visitors–unfamiliar with vehicles and locales–who incur most of the rising deaths and injuries.

Death rates and injury rates per passenger-mile for rental electric scooters are hundreds of times those for public transit. The rising incident counts appear small only because U.S. passenger-miles per year are vastly lower for rental electric scooters than for public transit and for private automobiles. Some injuries are very severe and can be permanently disabling. Alcohol, drugs or both have been found to factor in many e-scooter crashes, while helmet use is rare among crash victims.

The bottom fell out last year. Venture firms stopped funding rental scooters or stiffened their terms. There are no more Lime or Bird bonanzas like those of 2018. Some rental firms have tried to evade liability with rental agreements stating that “the riders relieve the company of liability.” Several host communities, facing complaints from elderly and disabled people put at risk, boosted insurance requirements and limited scooter operations. Lime just pulled out of Atlanta, once a major market–following Jump, Lyft and Gotcha–unwilling to observe city rules and post bonded insurance to benefit injured riders and bystanders.

Here in Brookline, MA, so far our Select Board largely neglects risks and costs. Contracts last year with rental firms indemnified the town but failed to protect riders and bystanders against rising risks and costs. When Brookline, like Atlanta, bans riding motorized scooters on sidewalks by law–so police can enforce the ban–and requires rental firms to post bonded insurance to benefit injured riders and bystanders, the board will start moving from neglect toward responsibility.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, January 24, 2020


Niall McCarthy, U.S. experiences surge in e-scooter accidents, Statista, January 16, 2020

Megan Rose Dickey, Electric scooter wars of 2019, Tech Crunch (Verizon Media), January 11, 2020

Sean Keenan, Major player Lime leaving Atlanta, Curbed Atlanta, January 10, 2020

Kia Kokalitcheva, E-scooter startup Lime shuts in 12 markets, lays off around 100, Axios, January 9, 2020

Sophia Kunthara and Natasha Mascarenhas, As Lime leaves 12 markets, a note on scooters, Crunchbase News (San Francisco, CA), January 9, 2020

Nikan K. Namiri, Hansen Lui et al., Electric scooter injuries and hospital admissions in the United States, 2014-2018, JAMA Surgery (in press), American Medical Association, January 8, 2020

Electric scooter and bike sharing companies, Crunchbase News (San Francisco, CA), January, 2020

Chris O’Brien, Globally, scooters are crashing, Techonomy (New York, NY), December 9, 2019

Madison Hogan, Lyft pulls the plug in Atlanta, American Innovation, November 15, 2019

George Abunaw, As pilot program nears end, Brookline residents divided over shared electric scooters, Boston University News, October 26, 2019

Paris Marx, Privately owned scooter companies don’t have a future, Catalyst (Brooklyn, NY), September 29, 2019

Bruce Brown, Walmart slashes prices on electric bikes and Razor e-scooters for Labor Day, Digital Trends (Portland, OR), August 31, 2019

Leslie M Kobayashi, Elliot Williams et al., The emerging epidemic of e-scooters, Trauma Surgery and Acute Care 4(1):1-5, BMJ Journals, August 29, 2019 (PDF file)

Aaron Short, Atlanta bans e-scooters at night after drivers kill four riders, StreetsBlog USA, August 12, 2019

James Temple, Scooters aren’t so climate-friendly after all, MIT Technology Review, August 2, 2019

Joseph Hollingsworth, Brenna Copeland and Jeremiah Johnson, The environmental impacts of shared dockless electric scooters, Environmental Research Letters 14(8):1-10, August 2, 2019 (PDF file)

Ed Leefeldt, Electric scooters are igniting new laws and liability concerns, CBS News, July 2, 2019

Kate Clark, The scooter cash desert, Tech Crunch (Verizon Media), June 22, 2019

Cathy Bussewitz and Amanda Morris, Boom in electric scooters leads to more injuries and fatalities, Associated Press, June 6, 2019

Ryan Felton, Eight deaths now tied to e-scooters in U.S., Consumer Reports, June 3, 2019

Select Board contact information, Town of Brookline, MA, June, 2019

Andrew Hawkins, Electric scooters may not be around for long, The Verge, April 12, 2019

Isobel Asher Hamilton, Electric scooters were to blame for at least 1,500 injuries and deaths in the U.S. last year, Business Insider, February 6, 2019

Sean Keenan, Atlanta City Council OKs restrictions on dockless, shareable e-scooters and bikes, Curbed Atlanta, January 8, 2019

City of Atlanta’s scooter ordinance, Pedestrians Educating Driver Safety (PEDS, Atlanta, GA) January, 2019

Ranking all e-scooter startups by venture capital received, Travel and Mobility, December 8, 2018

Insurance requirements, dockless on-demand personal mobility permit, Los Angeles Department of Transportation, October 1, 2018 (See Section E, page 8 of 30)

Will Kubzansky, Secret life of teen scooter outlaws, The Verge, September 23, 2018

Todd Gill, Fayetteville passes scooter insurance requirement, Fayetteville (AR) Flyer, April 9, 2015

Pilgrim Nuclear plant closing: end of an error

To much relief for its South Shore neighbors, the Pilgrim Nuclear power-plant in Plymouth, MA shut down for the last time, without a disaster, around 5:30 Friday afternoon, May 31, 2019. For nuclear power in Massachusetts, it was the end of an error–beginning the necropsy of a failed design.

At closing, the Pilgrim plant was scheduled to be mothballed, although it may eventually be dismantled. A 47-year accumulation of spent fuel will be stored indefinitely in tall casks–located in the open at the plant site–until there is a federal repository for high-level nuclear waste that accepts it. The only such facility–at Yucca Mountain in southern Nevada–was mothballed in 2010 before it opened, and there are no current plans to revive it or to design and build a different facility.

Pilgrim Nuclear spent-fuel storage casks, 2017

PilgrimNuclearWasteCasks2017

Source: Massachusetts Nuclear Decommissioning Panel

Risk-prone design: In the mid-1960s, when the Pilgrim plant was being planned, industry critics faulted the GE Mark I containment–a core feature of the plant–as a risk-prone design with poor resilience against major disturbances. However, like today’s counterparts at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, a politically motivated Atomic Energy Commission of the 1960s refused to intervene.

In 1975, a fire at the Browns Ferry Nuclear plant in Alabama confirmed that the design was unreliable. That plant has three Mark I reactors, the largest U.S. installation using the same base design as the Pilgrim plant. There are dozens of ways a nuclear power-plant might be threatened. The Browns Ferry plant came within about an hour of collapse from the fire, started by irresponsible activity during a safety inspection.

Alert citizens have known since 1975 that the base design for the Pilgrim plant was hazardous. So far, operators of Mark I plants in the U.S. were lucky. While no incident took the Pilgrim plant beyond its limits, in 1982 operator Boston Edison paid about a million in current dollars as fines for careless practices. The Nuclear Regulatory Agency closed Pilgrim during 1986-1989 for gross mismanagement.

Near-disaster and tragedy: Risk-prone as it has been, Pilgrim Nuclear ranked above the bottom of the list for nuclear safety. That dishonor probably applies best to the Davis-Besse Nuclear power-plant near Toledo, Ohio. According to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Davis–Besse has been the source of two of the five most dangerous nuclear incidents in the U.S. since the 1979 Three Mile Island meltdown.

It took the March, 2011 tragedy at Fukushima Dai-ichi in Japan to convince most of the world to abandon a nuclear dinosaur. Three reactors using the same base design as the Pilgrim plant failed and exploded, while the spent-fuel storage facility of a fourth reactor blew out its walls and roof. What remains in Massachusetts is to pack up high-level nuclear waste from decades of operation at the Pilgrim plant, until a repository suitable for at least 100,000 years of isolation accepts it.

In New England alone, high-level nuclear waste from closed reactors is already a long-term hazard at sites of the former Maine Yankee, Vermont Yankee, Connecticut Yankee, Yankee Rowe (MA) and Millstone 1 (CT). All have current storage of spent fuel near major water bodies, often located outdoors. Under such circumstances, commercial nuclear-waste storage casks have rated lifetimes of a few decades. At the glacial pace of progress toward a permanent, federal repository, the 40-year rated “design life” for a Holtec “HI-STORM” cask [Safety analysis, Sec. 3.4.12, p. 203 of 2,071] will prove to be too short.

Yankee Rowe site in 1986 and 2006

YankeeRoweSite2006

Source: Vermont Public Service Board

Costs and consequences: Under the Price-Anderson Act [Nuclear Industries Indemnity Act of 1957, Public Law 85-256] the federal governemt has been assuming the great majority of risks from nuclear-power disasters. So far, U.S. taxpayers have largely been spared. Cleanup costs after the Three Mile Island meltdown in 1979 totaled around $760 million when closed out in 1993. The U.S. government was caught flat-footed; it managed to evade overt liabilities by entering into “research contracts” with the Three Mile Island plant owner.

Luck may not hold. Disasters at Chernobyl in 1986 and Fukushima in 2011 are likely to produce worldwide, long-term losses and costs in the trillions of dollars–much of that as health issues and shortened lives of individuals. If the U.S. nuclear power operators were being charged realistic insurance premiums, they would be paying more than $100 billion a year–liabilities now being loaded onto U.S. taxpayers.

New England has two prior examples of dismantling nuclear power-plants: Yankee Rowe in Rowe, MA and Maine Yankee in Wiscasset, ME. At both, spent fuel was stored in casks outside former buildings, on concrete pads. Holtec “HI-STORM” casks currently installed and proposed at Pilgrim have been a poor choice for supporting ultimate removal of high-level nuclear waste to a federal repository. At 173 tons each, they are too heavy to transport on U.S. standard railroads, and they are too heavy and too wide to transport using flat-bed trucks on U.S. standard highways.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, May 31, 2019


Bob Salsberg, Associated Press, Pilgrim shutdown ends nuclear power era in Massachusetts, WTOP (Washington, DC), May 31, 2019

Steve LeBlanc, Associated Press, Nuclear power plant workers prepare for shutdown after 47 years in Massachusetts, WTOP (Washington, DC), May 28, 2019

David Abel, Closure of Pilgrim nuclear plant is part of a shifting energy industry, Boston Globe, May 28, 2019

Joe DiFazio, Pilgrim to move nuclear waste to higher ground, Quincy (MA) Patriot Ledger, October 26, 2018

Joseph R. Lynch (Entergy), Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station independent spent-fuel storage installation. Massachusetts Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel, November 15, 2017 (PDF, 22 pp)

Katharine Q. Seelye, Staff overwhelmed at nuclear plant, but U.S. won’t shut it, New York Times, February 1, 2017

Safety analysis report, Holtec HI-STORM 100 cask system, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, March 31, 2016 (PDF, 2,071 pp)

Dave Lochbaum, Nuclear plant accidents: Browns Ferry fire, Union of Concerned Scientists, 2016

Yukiya Amano, The Fukushima Dai-ichi accident, International Atomic Energy Agency, 2015 (PDF, 222 pp)

Pilgrim Nuclear plant chronology, Cape Cod Bay Watch, September, 2015

Tom Zeller, Jr., Experts had long criticized potential weakness in reactor design, New York Times, March 15, 2011

Victor Gilinsky, Near-accident at the Ohio nuclear plant, Washington Post, April 28, 2002

Three Mile Island: the financial fallout, Office of the Comptroller General, U.S. General Accounting Office, July 7, 1980

Craig Bolon, Nuclear power-plants at risk from hidden defects, Brookline Beacon, September 3, 2016

Craig Bolon, Will New England revive nuclear power?, Brookline Beacon, August 10, 2016

Craig Bolon, Losing steam: U.S. nuclear power-plants, Brookline Beacon, September 27, 2015

Craig Bolon, Nuclear news: a “cat-litter mystery,” Brookline Beacon, May 23, 2014

Taking the low road: Alabama judge invites dismembering abortion rights

Judge Edward Earl Carnes of the Eleventh Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, in Alabama, wrote up a “Kavanaugh case”–dripping with loaded words and clearly inviting the U.S. Supreme Court, once bulked up with Judge Kavanaugh, to overrule the Eleventh Circuit and ultimately to take apart, piece by piece, 45 years of abortion rights in the United States. Carnes has accumulated a highly controversial record on civil rights.

The Eleventh Circuit case concerns whether Alabama can so severely restrict use of a dilation and evacuation procedure, formerly called dilation and extraction, as to effectively ban it in second-trimester abortions. Citing precedents from the Supreme Court, the three judges from the Eleventh Circuit agreed with a district court decision that Alabama cannot do so.

The opinion written by Judge Carnes reeks with religious prejudice and vicious sarcasm. From the State of Alabama arguments, Carnes adopted the pejorative term “dismemberment abortion” instead of the medical term “dilation and evacuation procedure” and adopted the religiously prejudiced term “unborn child” instead of the medical term “fetus.”

Then Judge Carnes tried to ridicule prior decisions from the U.S. Supreme Court. For example, citing Stenberg v. Carhart [530 U.S. 914, 2000] and supposedly summarizing the recent, challenged Alabama law, he wrote on pages 3 and 4, “Killing an unborn child and then dismembering it is permitted; killing an unborn child by dismembering it is not.”

In citing the prior Supreme Court case, Judge Carnes quoted only from a dissent in the case, written by the late Justice Scalia, criticizing what Scalia called “the Court’s inclination to bend the rules when any effort to limit abortion, or even to speak in opposition to abortion, is at issue.” Carnes is clearly charting a course for dismembering abortion rights, extending from Roe v. Wade [410 U.S. 113, 1973].

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, August 22, 2018


West Alabama Women’s Center et al. v. Williamson et al., U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, Case no. 17-15208, August 22, 2018

John Eidsmoe, Foundation condemns inhumanity of Eleventh Circuit decision striking down Alabama ban on intact D&E abortions, Foundation for Moral Law (Montgomery, AL), August 22, 2018

Stephanie Akin, Anti-abortion group doubles down on Kavanaugh after he told Susan Collins Roe is ‘settled law’, Roll Call (Washington, DC), August 21, 2018

Unattributed editorial, The red-state war on abortion rights, Boston Globe, April 23, 2018

Winds of change: limits on marijuana

At the federal and state election of November, 2016, Massachusetts voters approved Question 4 by a 54-46 percent margin, legalizing marijuana for all uses. Opposition concentrated in the middle and outer Boston suburbs and on Cape Cod. Otherwise support spread across the state. Majorities voted Yes in 260 cities and towns with combined population of 4.7 million (72 percent of state population according to the 2010 census). Majorities voted No in 91 communities with combined population of 1.8 million (28 percent).

Voting to legalize marijuana did not mean accepting marijuana as a local business. Over the next year and a half, 156 Massachusetts cities and towns with combined population of 2.7 million (42 percent of state population) enacted moratoriums on marijuana shops. Some communities enacted outright bans, and some also banned or restricted other types of marijuana business. Most moratoriums were set to expire between June 30, 2018, and June 30, 2019.

Despite warnings from the state’s attorney general about enacting a moratorium extending into 2019, eight towns did so: Abington, Mansfield, Douglas, Rochester, Berlin, New Marlborough, New Braintree and Florida (listed by decreasing populations). Majorities in all but Mansfield had voted Yes on Question 4.

Bans on marijuana shops: As of late June, 2018, 76 Massachusetts cities and towns with combined population of 1.4 million (22 percent of the state population) had enacted permanent bans on marijuana shops. Most were communities where majorities of voters had voted No on Question 4. In those communities, town meetings and city councils could enact bans. Elsewhere voters had to approve.

In 18 Massachusetts communities where majorities of voters in a state election had supported Question 4, voters in local elections banned marijuana shops: Milford, Stoughton, Concord, South Hadley, Southbridge, Bellingham, Auburn, Whitman, East Bridgewater, Holliston, Medway, Acushnet, Hull, Southwick, Freetown, Merrimac, Barre and Mount Washington (listed by decreasing populations).

Hazards: Although milder than those produced by cocaine, amphetamines and narcotics, addictions to marijuana are well known. Craving, tolerance, withdrawal symptoms, adverse reactions, cognitive and behavioral impairments and mood disorders tend to increase with frequency and amount of marijuana use. A range of psychological dependence shades into addiction, similar in some ways to dependencies on alcohol and tobacco and to compulsive gambling.

Marijuana users who begin as teenagers or in early adulthood incur risks of lasting harm. As with other addictive regimes, some people are not attracted to marijuana, and some avoid addiction despite exposure. There is controversy over degrees of risk and amounts of harm, and there is currently no reliable way to predict individuals becoming addicted or suffering lasting harm.

Trends and publicity: Rejection of local marijuana business has been notably firm and fairly cohesive among Boston’s middle and outer suburbs. From Boxford and Chelmsford to the northwest, curving through Weston and Northborough to the west, Foxborough and Raynham to the southwest, and Braintree and Duxbury to the southeast, towns banned marijuana shops outright. Some banned all marijuana business.

Those are communities where many live who grew up in the founding high-tech surges. Most such workplaces were located in the suburbs spreading outward from Route 128, so those are also the communities where much of the workforce went. Family values remain strong and upwardly mobile. There is low tolerance for needless risk to sons and daughters from parents who reached success in their careers. As one speaker at a town meeting put it, “We are a community that builds ball fields and parks.”

In contrast, the Boston Globe–New England’s best known news medium–has been patronizing marijuana partisans, often focusing on interests seeking a faster pace of development. Reporter Dan Adams carved out a niche writing items favorable to marijuana interests that rarely mention other outlooks. While there is an occasional contrary view written by someone else, it tends to get lost in the parade for marijuana. Chasing profits instead of candor, Globe managers foster public and reader disservice.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, July 2, 2018


Massachusetts city and town actions on marijuana shops, Brookline Beacon, July, 2018 (notes majorities voting to legalize marijuana or not, via Question 4 in 2016)

Ally Jarmanning and Daigo Fujiwara, Where marijuana stores can and can’t open in Massachusetts, WBUR (Boston, MA), June 28, 2018 (presents data through an interactive map)

Dan Adams, Attorney General Maura Healey’s ruling could slow Massachusetts marijuana industry, Boston Globe, June 25, 2018

Steven Hoffman, Which Massachusetts towns won’t allow marijuana sales?, WBZ (CBS Boston), June 22, 2018 (tabulates data from the Massachusetts Municipal Association)

Timothy Naimi, Why marijuana policies in Massachusetts aren’t strict enough, Boston Globe, June 20, 2018

Dan Adams and Margeaux Sippell, Recreational marijuana companies face bans, moratoriums in cities and towns, Boston Globe, March 17, 2018

Zoe Mathews, North Andover bans commercial marijuana, North Andover (MA) Eagle-Tribune, January 30, 2018

Massachusetts ballot question 4: legalize marijuana, Boston Globe, November 16, 2016 (includes interactive map showing voting by cities and towns)

Massachusetts marijuana legalization, Question 4, Encyclopedia of American Politics (Ballotpedia), November, 2016

Kevin Sabet, Madeline Meier responds to latest IQ and marijuana studies, Smart Approaches to Marijuana (Alexandria, VA), January 19, 2016

Madeline H. Meier, Avshalom Caspi et al., Persistent cannabis users show neuropsychological decline from childhood to midlife, Proceedings of the U.S. National Academies of Science 109(40):E2657-2664, 2012

Alain Dervaux, Cannabis use and dependence, Presse Médicale 41(12):1233-1240, 2012 (in French)

Alan J. Budney, Roger Roffman et al., Marijuana dependence and treatment, Addiction Science and Clinical Practice 4(1):4–16, 2007

Craig Bolon, Marijuana business: trends in Oregon, Brookline Beacon, May 29, 2018

Craig Bolon, Against neighborhoods: Brookline zoning for marijuana, Brookline Beacon, May 12, 2018

Craig Bolon, Medical marijuana in Brookline: will there be a site?, Brookline Beacon, December 7, 2014

Marijuana business: trends in Oregon

Oregon has the most experience of any U.S. state with commercial marijuana. For many years before legalization, starting as early as the 1950s, surveys of Oregon found more marijuana use and cultivation than in any other western state. Mild climate and moderate rainfall in the Willamette Valley, which produces widely known orchard fruits and wines, also favored covert marijuana farming.

In 1973, Oregon became the first state to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana: up to an ounce. By the 1980s, marijuana had become the state’s most valuable crop. In 1998, Oregon became the second state to legalize and regulate medical marijuana. In 2014, Oregon became the third state to legalize and regulate recreational marijuana, following Colorado and Washington two years before.

Product trends: Quality and strength of marijuana in the United States evolved after early restrictions, starting with federal and state laws during the 1930s. Bulk “bricks” of a pound or two–common through the 1970s–were often smuggled from Central and South America. Strength was generally low. Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main euphoric, measured a few percent by weight in a mix of dried leaves, flowers and stems. Sinsemilla from only unfertilized flower buds–without seeds, leaves or stems–was unusual and costly.

Popular grades of commercial marijuana

Grade A seedless, no large leaves or stems, 15 percent THC or higher
Grade B some leaves, few seeds, around 10 percent THC
Grade C largely leaves, seeds and stems, 5 percent THC or lower

Source: RAND reports

Processed marijuana began to capture U.S. trade during the 1980s and became a focus of consumer appeal. However, grade A sinsemilla needs greenhouses to protect against insects and fungus–optimized for light, temperature, moisture and nutrients. During decades of marijuana cultivation as a covert crop in Oregon, most producers look to have worked small, open-field plantings. Locally grown, grade B products overtook grade C imports and so far survive against industrialized, grade A products.

Business trends: When presented the option of a legalized and regulated business in 2015, experienced Oregon growers mainly adapted and expanded open-field plantings, an annual crop cycle harvested in early fall. Out of about 2,000 producer licenses approved and in process, as of May, 2018, nearly two-thirds were for locations in only four of the 29 Oregon counties: Clackamas, Jackson, Josephine and Lane. They span lowlands east of the Coast Range mountains around Interstate 5, running from Portland south through Salem and Eugene to Medford. That is where about three-quarters of the state’s residents live.

The first of the annual harvests after legalization, in 2016, shrank because of heavy rain, cold weather and hailstorms. The next year, nearly ideal weather provided a huge crop. The Oregon agency licensing marijuana operations has not published production and sales summaries. However, news writers claiming to have seen internal data say producers reported sales for 2017 of around 350,000 pounds against producer inventory, unsold in February, 2018, of more than a million pounds.

Within a few months after the harvest, wholesale prices collapsed. Grade B product formerly selling at over $1,500 a pound was reported dumped at $100 a pound or less, when costs of production ranged above $200 a pound. Some growers say they are converting smokable marijuana into more stable extracts, hoping to sell medical and edible products. Retail shops that bought at last year’s prices are being whipsawed by competitors who waited and bought at fire-sale prices. Half the workers in the Oregon marijuana industry may be out of jobs. Desperate business owners are increasing covert exports to other states that legalization was expected to retard.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, May 29, 2018


Suzanne Roig, Overproduction of marijuana floods Oregon markets, Bend (OR) Bulletin, May 26, 2018

Matt Stangel and Katie Shepherd, Oregon grew more cannabis than customers can smoke, Willamette Week (Portland, OR), April 18, 2018

Robert C. Clarke and Mojave Richmond, Cups, labs and terps, Cannabis Business Times (Cleveland, OH), April 4, 2018

Oregon Liquor Control needs cannabis monitoring and security systems, Audits Division, Oregon Secretary of State, February, 2018 (7 MB, 41 pp)

Pete Danko, A reckoning has arrived for Oregon’s overgrown cannabis industry, Portland (OR) Business Journal, January 10, 2018

Marijuana License Applications, Oregon Liquor Control Commission, 2018

Mahmoud A. ElSohly, Zlatko Mehmedic, Susan Foster, Chandrani Gon, Suman Chandra and James C. Church, Changes in cannabis potency over the last two decades in the United States, Biological Psychiatry 79(7):613–619, 2016

Omar Sacirbey, Growing high-quality cannabis in a greenhouse, Marijuana Business Daily (Denver, CO), September, 2016

Jerry Kieran, Measuring yield, Cannabis Business Times (Cleveland, OH), September, 2016

Daniel Cressey, The cannabis experiment, Nature 524(7565):280–283, August 29, 2015

Eric L. Sevigny, Is today’s marijuana more potent simply because it’s fresher?, Drug Testing and Analysis 5(1):62-67, 2013

THC content of sinsemilla and Mexican commercial-grade marijuana, Appendin B in Beau Kilmer, Jonathan P. Caulkins, Brittany M. Bond and Peter H. Reuter: Reducing Drug Trafficking Revenues and Violence in Mexico, RAND Drug Policy Research Center (Santa Monica, CA), 2010

Jonathan P. Caulkins, Estimated cost of production for legalized cannabis, RAND Drug Policy Research Center (Santa Monica, CA), 2010

Keith Stroup, America’s no. 1 crop: marijuana, High Times (New York, NY), April, 1986

Against neighborhoods: Brookline zoning for marijuana

This month–likely on Thursday, May 24–Brookline’s Town Meeting will vote on a risk-laden approach to marijuana zoning and licensing. A complex surface hides disorganized, hypocritical, neighborhood-hostile efforts. Two meetings on Thursday, May 10 showed confusions and lapses of community spirit: a review for some Town Meeting Members and a regular Advisory Committee meeting, both held at Town Hall.

Recreational marijuana regulation: At the 2018 Annual Town Meeting starting May 22, under Articles 17 through 22 Brookline could allow up to four retail shops selling recreational marijuana and up to four marijuana cafes. The Planning Board and the Planning staff, supported so far by three of the five Select Board members, propose to allow the recreational marijuana shops in Local Business zones as well as in General Business zones.

Brookline has five main General Business zones. They are mostly well separated from residential areas and schools: Commonwealth Avenue, Coolidge Corner, Brookline Village, Washington Square and the west end of Route 9 near the Chestnut Hill Mall. There are smaller ones near the north end of Harvard Street, bordered by Allston, and near the east end of Route 9, bordered by the Riverway.

There are seven main Local Business zones. Many thread through residential areas and near schools: the shopping center near Putterham Circle in South Brookline, the northern part of Harvard Street between Devotion School and Verndale Street, the middle part of Harvard Street between Pierce School and Marion Street, the northern part of Cypress Street near Washington Street, the middle part of Cypress Street near the High School and Route 9, the southern part of Cypress Street near Kendall Street, the east end of Beacon Street between St. Mary’s and Carlton Streets, and land near the west end of Beacon Street around Sutherland Road.

Threatened neighborhoods: Proposed zoning for marijuana includes so-called “buffer zones” extending 500 feet out from schoolyard boundaries. Marijuana shops are not allowed inside “buffer zones.” The maps that follow identify some of Brookline’s threatened neighborhoods–showing parts of Local Business zones outside “buffer zones.” Colored in bright blue are Local Business areas where marijuana shops would be allowed. “Buffer zones” around schools are cross-hatched.

Threatened neighborhoods near Harvard Street

HarvardStreetNeighborhoods

Source: Brookline Planning Department

 
 
Threatened neighborhoods near Cypress Street

CypressStreetNeighborhoods

Source: Brookline Planning Department

 
 
Threatened neighborhoods near Putterham Circle

PutterhamtNeighborhoods

Source: Brookline Planning Department

Information from Town Hall: Planning staff held a late-afternoon information session at Town Hall on May 10, sought by Precinct 5 Town Meeting Members. The two staff were Francisco Torres and Ashley Clark–hired in part to develop and promote plans for marijuana. They have fairly short spans of experience in Brookline, and they smile a lot.

At the Town Hall session were Betsy DeWitt–formerly a Select Board member–plus Phyllis O’Leary, Wendy Machmuller, Rob Daves, Andy Olins, Hugh Mattison and newly elected Cindy Drake from Precinct 5, John Bassett from Precinct 6, Craig Bolon from Precinct 8 and Regina Frawley from Precinct 16.

Precinct 5 Town Meeting Members generally opposed medical marijuana at the former Brookline Bank on the corner of Route 9, High Street and Washington Street. They spoke about keeping marijuana shops out of the Local Business zones on Cypress Street. Betsy DeWitt saw high profits from marijuana shops pushing out ordinary local business.

Planning has proposed no standards that support ordinary local businesses. Their proposals for zoning and licensing amount to a “first in the door” approach to zoning permits and business licenses. However, they propose no system to regulate how the timing of applications would be recognized. That could leave Brookline exposed to long and potentially costly “due process” lawsuits, claiming that results from its informal approach had been arbitrary and capricious.

Advisory Committee hostile to neighborhoods: Many of the 24 out of 30 Advisory Committee members at the evening meeting on May 10 seemed hostile toward Brookline neighborhoods. Because around 60 percent of Brookline voters opted to legalize marijuana, they claimed recreational marijuana shops could be sited without considering impacts on neighborhoods. Fisher Hill resident Clifford Brown of Precinct 14 led a charge for more marijuana revenue, while several others on the committee chimed in.

Critically examined, some claims about huge local revenues turn out to be fragrant BS when not flagrant lies. The budding marijuana industry had its friends at (the General) Court when Chapter 55 of the Acts of 2017 was being written: the ironically titled “act to ensure safe access to marijuana.” The access is particularly “safe” for marijuana dealers. Much of the potential local revenues come from so-called “community impact fees” that can be included in city and town contracts with marijuana dealers. However, when the revenue party is over after five (5) years, it’s done and gone–while all the problems the community may find continue indefinitely. According to Chapter 94G, Section 3(d) of the General Laws, as amended by the 2017 act:

“…a host community may include a community impact fee for the host community; provided, however, that the community impact fee shall be reasonably related to the costs imposed upon the municipality by the operation of the marijuana establishment or medical marijuana treatment center and shall not amount to more than 3 per cent of the gross sales of the marijuana establishment or medical marijuana treatment center or be effective for longer than 5 years….” [emphasis added]

Voters blindsided: Many of the Brookline voters who opted to legalize marijuana had been informed by the cautious, two-year process to zone and license medical marijuana. Medical marijuana dispensaries are not allowed in Local Business zones. The only current one is on Route 9. Hardly anybody would have expected “full speed ahead” and “open floodgates” for recreational marijuana–the approach from Brookline Planning, welcoming both marijuana shops and cafes to the Local Business zones threading through residential neighborhoods and near schools.

At Advisory Committee on May 10, vocal majorities rejected a motion to exclude marijuana shops from Local Business zones. They supported another motion to allow marijuana cafes. Hypocrites would continue to ban medical marijuana sales from Local Business zones, and they support a new ban on marijuana treatment centers. The outlook of hypocrites seems to be that medical marijuana would not yield as much in licensing fees and local taxes as recreational marijuana–so medical marijuana should be banned.

Those supporting neighborhoods by voting to exclude recreational marijuana shops from Local Business zones were committee members Harry Friedman, David-Marc Goldstein, Angela Hyatt, Alisa Jonas, Steve Kanes, Fred Levitan and Lee Selwyn. Thumbing noses at neighborhoods by voting the other way were Ben Birnbaum, Clifford Brown, Carol Caro, Lea Cohen, John Doggett, Janet Gelbart, Neil Gordon, Janice Kahn, Bobbie Knable, David Lescohier, Pamela Lodish, Shaari Mittel, Michael Sandman, Kim Smith, Charles Swartz and Christine Westphal. Committee chair Sean Lynn-Jones did not vote. Vice-chair Carla Benka and members Dennis Doughty, Kelly Hardebeck, Amy Hummel, Mariah Nobrega and Susan Roberts were absent.

Preventing needless burdens: The NETA medical marijuana dispensary on Route 9 is already in negotiations for one of the potential licenses as a recreational marijuana shop. Its success would leave only three licenses available. There are six more General Business zones to provide sites, leaving no need to burden neighborhoods near Local Business zones. A simple amendment to Article 17 at the 2018 Annual Town Meeting can keep recreational marijuana shops out of Local Business zones.

VOTED: To amend the motion under Article 17 so as to change “Use 29A, Storefront Marijuana Retailers” from “SP *1,2″ to “No” for L (local business) districts.

As of May 17, an equivalent motion is being proposed by Neil Wishinsky (chair of the Select Board) together with Betsy DeWitt, a Precinct 5 Town Meeting Member (TMM-5), Cynthia Drake (TMM-5), Scott Gladstone (TMM-16), Angela Hyatt (TMM-5) and Kate Silbaugh (TMM-1). After several years of experience with recreational marijuana shops in General Business zones, Brookline could review the results and see whether it might make sense to allow them in other places.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, May 12, 2018, updated May 17, 2018


Recreational marijuana information, Department of Planning and Community Development, Brookline, MA, 2018

Locations for marijuana shops, Department of Planning and Community Development, Brookline, MA, 2018

Advisory Committee, Town of Brookline, MA, 2018

Adult use of marijuana, 935 CMR 500, Massachusetts Code of Regulations, 2018

Public documents, Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission, 2017-2018

Emma R. Murphy, Brookline’s NETA marijuana dispensary seeking recreational license, Brookline (MA) Tab, April 18, 2018

Business and functional requirements for the licensing, tracking and sale of adult-use marijuana (57 pp) Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission, November, 2017

An act to ensure safe access to marijuana, Massachusetts Acts and Resolves of 2017, Chapter 55

Gintautas Dumcius, Brookline medical marijuana dispensary, operated by NETA, set to open in mid-January, Springfield (MA) Republican, December 24, 2015

Craig Bolon, Medical marijuana in Brookline: will there be a site?, Brookline Beacon, December 7, 2014

Pipeline fiascos: Mass. gas morass

In a brazen money-grab, two big U.S. pipeline companies proposed major new natural-gas pipelines across southern new England a few years ago. At 2.7 Bcf/d (billion cubic feet per day), their combined new capacity would have far exceeded the most aggressive estimate of domestic needs over 30 years, 1.1 Bcf/d.

Thinly disguised motives were to build channels to ship U.S. natural gas overseas as LNG (liquefied natural gas), mainly sent in ocean-going tankers to Europe. Natural gas is a finite and strategic U.S. resource that has greatly reduced emissions of toxic substances and greenhouse gases, as compared with coal-fired power, during our country’s transition to renewable energy.

The pipeline developments were poorly reported in New England. The Boston Globe, the region’s largest news medium, has never employed a competent energy reporter. It has lacked a dedicated reporter on environmental issues since Beth Daley left in 2011 for a Knight fellowship at Stanford, never to return. Its politics reporters are usually clueless about business. Its business reporters pretend to be clueless about politics.

Take the money and run: Greedy, hostile companies trying to ream out New England were Kinder Morgan of Houston, TX–successor to Enron, El Paso Pipeline and Tennessee Gas Pipeline–and Spectra Energy of Houston–successor to Texas Eastern Pipeline and Algonquin Gas Transmission. Spectra recently became a division of Enbridge, a tar-sands pipeline developer located in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

The greedy, hostile companies were looking for a cheap date and found one. What could be cheaper than building pipelines with somebody else’s money? At somebody else’s risk? The 2014 Republican candidate for Massachusetts governor became an eager cheerleader. On Election Day, 2014, five Kinder Morgan executives forked over $2,500 to the campaign of Governor-elect Charles Duane Baker, Jr. Senior personnel at other interested companies and groups had kicked in earlier for “Charlie”–as he styled himself.

As Gov. “Charlie” likely knew at the time and surely should have known, the largest electric utilities in New England entertained partnerships with Spectra Energy. Eversource–successor to Boston Edison–and National Grid–successor to Northeast Utilities–considered commitments to Spectra’s “Access Northeast” project: a major, new gas pipeline along the route of the Algonquin pipeline opened in 1953.

Payback to business backers of Gov. “Charlie” was prompt. Angela O’Connor became chair of the Department of Public Utilities (DPU). She was a former president of New England Power Generators Association. Ron Gerwatowski became assistant secretary for energy. He had been a senior vice president at National Grid. Robert Hayden, a DPU lawyer who lost for Congress, running as a reactionary, became DPU commissioner.

Three months after Gov. “Charlie” took office, mastiffs at the Department of Energy Resources proposed to allow electricity distribution companies to invest in natural-gas pipelines, funded by surcharges levied against retail electricity rates. They should have known the proposal violated both letter and spirit of the 1997 Electric Utility Restructuring Act. [St. 1997, C. 164] That law took the distribution companies, including Boston Edison and Northeast Utilities, away from electricity generation they had mismanaged.

Three and a half months later, the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office (AGO) notified the DPU that the proposal in DPU docket 15-37 appeared to violate the Electric Utility Restructuring Act. According to the AGO, the proposal also lacked “ratepayer protections such as competitive processes, transparency, avoidance of conflicts of interest and incentives to achieve the best results for ratepayers.” In other words, it encouraged greedy, hostile companies against which the Electric Utility Restructuring Act had been aimed.

Battling the elements, elements mostly win: An ox set to be gored by would-be money-grabbers was the operator of the Distrigas LNG terminal on the Everett waterfront. Since 1971, that facility has landed natural gas shipped from overseas to fuel what became the largest generating plant in New England. Lower costs for U.S. gas delivered from pipelines shut in three other New England LNG terminals, but the Everett terminal survived through enterprising services and favorable, long-term contracts.

More recently interconnected to major pipelines, the Everett terminal has supplied gas to pipeline customers during winter months when demands peak. Operator GDF Suez, reorganized as Engie in 2015, was incensed to find that Massachusetts might subsidize operations of pipeline competitors through regulated electricity rates and promptly filed a Massachusetts lawsuit: Engie Gas & LNG v. Department of Public Utilities. Other New England energy operators petitioned a federal agency to block similar state subsidy schemes.

Through an amicus filing, the AGO advised the Supreme Judicial Court that DPU support for pipeline subsidies using regulated electricity rates violated the Electric Utility Restructuring Act and went beyond DPU powers under the state’s general laws. The SJC assigned expedited reviews. In a decision of August, 2016, the SJC flatly reversed the DPU, closely following the attorney general’s reasoning.

Seeing that Massachusetts utilities were lining up behind the Specta project, Kinder Morgan had folded its cards before the SJC decision, shelving the “Northeast Energy Direct” project. Less than a year later, finding no customer base to support oversized capacity, Spectra shut down the “Access Northeast” project. Thus the administration of Gov. “Charlie” was left adrift–ready to run but lacking a race track.

Working mostly in the shadows, Gov. “Charlie” continues catering to business allies at the expense of voters and taxpayers. Recently the DPU shut down residential solar energy, again pandering to large utilities that would rather not be bothered with an intermittent, nondispatchable energy source.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, March 6, 2018


Residential solar suffers a major setback from latest DPU decision, Solar Energy Business Association of New England (Amherst, MA), January 12, 2018

Enzo DiMatteo, More banks bailing on tar sands pipelines, Now Magazine (Toronto), November 6, 2017

Herman K. Trabish, Massachusetts utilities take divergent approaches to grid modernization, Utility Dive (Washington, DC), September 6, 2017

Mary C. Serreze, Enbridge suspends Access Northeast natural gas pipeline plan, Springfield (MA) Republican, June 29, 2017

Jon Chesto, Lacking financing, utilities put $3 billion natural gas pipeline plan on hold, Boston Globe, June 29, 2017

Andy Metzger, State House News, Beaton ‘saddened’ by retribution charges as State House inquiry lingers, Worcester (MA) Sun, October 2, 2016

Richa Naidu and Sweta Singh, Enbridge buying Spectra in $28 billion deal, Reuters (UK), September 6, 2016

Lee Hansen, The Massachusetts natural-gas pipeline-expansion proposal, Connecticut General Assembly, August 29, 2016

Eugenia T. Gibbons, DPU approval for pipeline tax sought no more, but Spectra project still very much in the works, Mass. Energy Consumers Alliance (Boston), August 25, 2016

Engie Gas & LNG v. Department of Public Utilities, Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, Case nos. SJC-12051 and SJC-12052, August 17, 2016

Colin A. Young and Katie Lannan, State House News, Gov. Baker signs renewable energy bill, Quincy (MA) Patriot Ledger, August 8, 2016

Jon Chesto. SJC rejects Baker’s plan to impose fee for gas pipelines, Boston Globe, June 29, 2016

William Opalka, Generation owners seek to block EDC-pipeline deals, RTO Insider (Potomac, MD), June 27, 2016

Jon Chesto. Kinder Morgan shelves $3 billion pipeline project, Boston Globe, April 20, 2016

Mary C. Serreze, More than 90 Massachusetts lawmakers oppose ratepayers financing natural gas pipelines, Springfield (MA) Republican, April 11, 2016

Craig Altemose, Gov. Baker’s campaign contributions from energy executives, Huffington Post, April 7, 2016

Mary C. Serreze, Supreme Judicial Court to consider if Massachusetts electric utilities can buy pipeline capacity on behalf of power plants, Springfield (MA) Republican, April 5, 2016

Paul J. Hibbard and Craig P. Aubuchon (Analysis Group, Boston), Power System Reliability in New England, November, 2015 (prepared for Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office)

Rebecca Tapper, Healey slams Baker’s DPU in letter, Commonwealth, September 22, 2015

Craig Altemose, Emerging reality of gas infrastructure: destination export, Huffington Post, July 10, 2015

Initial comments of the attorney general, Department of Public Utilities docket 15-37, June 15, 2015

Shira Schoenberg, Seek to expand state’s natural gas capacity, Baker administration tells Department of Public Utilities, Springfield (MA) Republican, April 14, 2015

Natural gas delivery capacity for thermal load and electric generation, Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities, Docket 15-37 initial filing, April 2, 2015

Brian Dowling, National Grid joins $3 billion New England pipeline buildout, Hartford (CT) Courant, February 18, 2015

Mary C. Serreze, Region needs energy upgrades, including more natural gas pipeline capacity, says grid operator ISO New England, Springfield (MA) Republican, January 26, 2015

David Abel, Baker appoints controversial new energy team, Boston Globe, January 13, 2015

Matt Murphy, State House News, Beaton shakes up DPU team, hires former National Grid exec, Lowell (MA) Sun, January 12, 2015

David Abel, Environmentalists wary of Baker’s energy pick, Boston Globe, November 28, 2014

Shira Schoenberg, State Rep. Matt Beaton appointed energy secretary by Gov.-Elect Charlie Baker, Springfield (MA) Republican, November 17, 2014

Beth Daley, Senior reporter at New England Center for Investigative Reporting, Huffington Post, 2014

Thomas Overton, Everett LNG terminal at the crossroads, Power Magazine, July 2, 2013

An act relative to restructuring the electric utility industry, Massachusetts Acts of 1997, Chapter 164

Craig Bolon, New gas pipelines spurned: no subsidies from electricity rates, Brookline Beacon, August 17, 2016

Craig Bolon, Little need for new gas pipelines, Brookline Beacon, July 20, 2016

Craig Bolon, New England gas pipelines: attorney general weighs in, Brookline Beacon, November 1, 2015

Craig Bolon, New England gas pipelines: need versus greed, Brookline Beacon, August 29, 2015

The slow poison: environmental lead

Lead was shown to be a poison around 2,000 years ago by the Greek physician Pedianos Dioskorides, whose medical manual continued in use for more than 15 centuries. Although in ancient Rome and in some medieval settings lead was widely used, so far scholars of those eras have found little evidence that lead poisoning was recognized as more than an occupational hazard, mostly affecting mine and smelter workers.

The industrial revolution, starting in Europe during the late eighteenth century, brought a surge in the use of lead and a corresponding surge in lead poisoning. In England, a physician found the “Devonshire colic” was lead poisoning in 1767, caused by apples crushed into cider with lead implements. Otherwise, until the late twentieth century, the great majority of lead concerns continued to focus on workplace hazards.

Diagnoses: Frank symptoms of lead poisoning tend to set in at blood concentrations around 40 ug/dl (micrograms per deciliter) or 2 uM (micromolar). They become acute around 80 ug/dl or 4 uM. Before the 1960s, there were no reliable tests to measure such relatively small concentrations, less than a part per million. Testing environments were often lead-contaminated, especially after leaded gasoline began to be sold as motor-vehicle fuel in the 1920s. Test results might differ by factors of four or more. Diagnoses relied heavily on observations rather than on tests and almost always focused on acute symptoms.

Acute lead-poisoning symptoms include skin pallor, constipation, intestinal cramps, muscle spasms or paralysis, hallucinations and a “lead line” visible in the gums. Early tests included “stippling” of erythrocytes in blood, described in 1899, and opaque bands seen in X-rays near the ends of bones, described in 1943. By the time those tests showed problems, though, lead exposures had become profound.

A rare report about chronic effects of lead exposure described children who had apparently recovered from an acute episode of poisoning. Elizabeth Lord, a child psychologist at Boston Children’s Hospital from 1929 to 1942, followed 20 chidren for several years. She and Randolph Byers, a pediatrician at Children’s from 1925 to 1971, reported that all but one of those children showed learning disabilities persisting from infancy into early childhood, when they no longer had acute symptoms.

Automotive threats: The most significant and widespread source of lead for most modern environments in the United States was leaded gasoline, used as motor-vehicle fuel. Its chief sponsor in the 1920s was General Motors–as part of a struggle for market share with Ford and smaller competitors, with promises of “comfort, convenience, power and style” according to G.M. advertising.

In 1922, Charles F. Kettering, vice president for research, and Thomas Midgley, Jr., chief chemist, filed a patent application for tetraethyl lead as a gasoline additive to prevent engine knock and increase power (U.S. Patent 1,492,953 issued in 1926). The main alternative had been grain alcohol. The patent gave G.M. a major advantage: unlike an approach using alcohol, G.M. could control the market and reap monopoly profits.

Led by Kettering, General Motors entered into partnership with DuPont to produce trtraethyl lead and began a campaign of promoting so-called “Ethyl” gasoline and trying to discredit objections and alternatives. From the late 1920s through the early 1970s, nearly all U.S. automobiles and light trucks used leaded gasoline. Over about 80 years, more than seven million tons of lead entered U.S. environments from motor vehicles.

Measurements: In 1964. Sir Alan Moncrieff and others at Children’s Hospital in London tried to extend the Byers and Lord investigations, measuring blood lead in about 200 children. They used an optical absorbance technique, reporting substantial variations for repeat measurements. They found nearly all children evaluated as psychologically normal had blood lead under 40 ug/dl and those evaluated as retarded or disturbed had levels up to 70 ug/dl. They did not follow subjects over extended times.

In 1971, researchers at the Connecticut School of Medicine described a method using a then new technology of atomic absorption spectroscopy to improve sensitivity. They reported a coefficient of variation of 2.7 percent. A small cohort of children regarded as normal all had blood lead under 30 ug/dl. A larger cohort from a depressed area of Hartford had levels up to 150 ug/dl. The researchers did not follow subjects over extended times.

By 1979, a method using atomic absorption spectroscopy reproduced measurements of blood lead with a standard deviation of 2.3 ug/dl, reliable enough to support the CDC “level of concern” of 30 ug/dl (1.5 uM) at the time, although not reliable enough to apply much lower standards to individuals in medical settings. Technologies to measure lead in blood and tissues continued to improve, supporting medical diagnoses as well as stimulating research.

Harmful effects without acute poisoning: Concerns about harms from lead levels lower than those found with acute poisoning were confirmed in the late 1970s. Research organized by the late Herbert L. Needleman, a pediatrician and child psychiatrist at Boston Children’s Hospital, was reported in 1979. It focused on children whose lead exposures had been regarded as normal, using standards from the early 1970s.

Needleman saw signs of lasting harm to children as a young physician working at a community health clinic in Philadelphia. He suspected research would show differences in mental skills and social behaviors that grew with differences in lead exposure. Aware that his research was likely to be closely scrutinized, Needleman and his colleagues assembled a large cohort of subjects drawn from public school populations in Somerville and Chelsea, MA–avoiding, for example, subjects drawn from special schools or from medical clinics.

Because mental skills and social behaviors develop with many influences, Needleman and colleagues compiled background information about each subject that would make it possible to adjust results for a range of social and economic factors. Instead of relying on isolated measurements of blood lead that might not represent exposure history, they took measures of cumulative lead exposure from deciduous “baby” teeth that subjects had shed and provided.

After adjustment for social and economic factors, results in 1979 from Needleman and colleagues showed that as children’s lead exposures increased mental skills decreased and social behaviors became less adaptive. The researchers argued that prevailing standards for lead exposure were far too lax. Based mainly on acute poisoning, those standards ignored lead exposures that would harm children.

Lead from the air: Lead from gasoline, spread through the air, was the most serious and pervasive lead hazard in the United States between about 1930 and 1990. Although researchers and physicians had continued to sound alarms, lead was finally removed from U.S. motor-vehicle gasoline as a byproduct of other environmental concerns, not because of the alarms over lead poisonings and impairments.

In 1954 Arie J. Haagen-Smit, a Caltech chemistry professor, showed that clouds of smog, blighting the Los Angeles area for many years, were mostly produced by sunlight-stimulated reactions of hydrocarbon fumes from motor vehicles. Less frequent but occasionally severe smog attacks were becoming common in other locations. including mountain areas around Denver, CO. Public pressure grew to address the problems.

The Clean Air Act Amendments of 1970 (P.L. 88-206), a legacy from former Sen. Edmund S. Muskie (D, ME), required major reductions in motor-vehicle emissions by 1975. Research during the 1960s had shown that catalytic converters, made with ultrathin layers of precious metals, could achieve the results by oxidizing hydrocarbons in exhaust fumes. However, lead from gasoline would quickly foul those devices.

In 1970, General Motors began a campaign to remove lead from U.S. gasoline, a great irony. Decades earlier G.M. had promoted leaded gasoline, but by 1970 the company had sold its interests in tetraethyl lead and had filed patent applications for catalytic converters. In 1973, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued regulations reducing, in stages, amounts of leaded gasoline allowed to be distributed in the U.S..

Removing lead from gasoline produced prompt declines in surveys of blood lead. By the middle 1970s, blood lead measurements had become fairly reliable, leading the U.S. Centers for Disease Control to add blood-lead testing in a second National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) for 1976-1980–by luck coinciding with impacts of EPA regulations reducing lead in gasoline–as well as in subsequent surveys.

U.S. lead in gasoline and average blood lead, 1976-1980

BloodLeadSurveys1976-1980

Source: U.S. Centers for Disease Control

Lowering total lead in U.S. gasoline from about 200,000 tons per year to about 100,000 tons per year (50 percent) paralleled a reduction in average blood lead measured for HNANES II subjects of all ages from about 16 ug/dl to about 10 ug/dl (40 percent). At the peak of production around 1970, leaded gasoline probably caused more than half the total blood-lead burden carried by U.S. residents.

Regulation: As authorized under the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1970, in 1974 the U.S. began requiring new cars to run on unleaded gasoline and requiring retail outlets to make unleaded gasoline available. After 1995, retail sale of leaded gasoline was banned. The long “phase-out” of lead in U.S. gasoline paralleled declines in measurements of blood lead, as recorded by national health surveys.

By 1989, unleaded gasoline accounted for 90 percent of motor-vehicle gasoline sold in the U.S. A statistical analysis performed that year, adjusting for several social and economic factors, found that the reduction of lead in gasoline had lowered average blood lead for U.S. residents by about half.

After gasoline lead, the next most common household lead hazards in the United States have long been paint containing lead pigments, lead in water pipes and fixtures, and lead in soils and dust. These threats are geographically concentrated, as compared with lead from gasoline. They occur mainly in older neighborhoods where leaded paint and lead water pipes were common, near current and former incinerators and coal-fired power-plants, and near current and former industries working with lead.

Before the 1970s, lead pigments were typical major components of paints. The federal Lead-based Paint Poisoning Prevention Act of 1971 (P.L. 91-695) and amendments in 1973 banned most retail sales of leaded paint after 1974. A series of federal laws and regulations starting that year, plus state regulations, gradually restricted uses of lead in water pipes and fixtures. The major federal laws were the following:
Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974 (P.L. 93-523)
Safe Drinking Water Act Amendments of 1986 (P.L. 99-339)
Safe Drinking Water Act Amendments of 1996 (P.L. 104-182)
Reduction of Lead in Drinking Water Act of 2011 (P.L. 111-380)

Effects on child development: Pursuing Needleman’s work into unexplored territory, in 2005 Bruce P. Lanphear and colleagues at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and other institutions published data analysis for childhood harm from lead exposure–based on research by other groups. Results indicated major, lasting harm at blood levels below 10 ug/dl (0.5 uM). Lanphear and colleagues estimated IQ loss of about four points for blood lead increasing from 2-1/2 to 10 ug/dl.

Those results drew objections–particularly lack of adjustment for social and economic factors–but they provoked anxiety. The CDC “level of concern” for children’s blood lead had been lowered from 30 ug/dl in 1979 to 10 ug/dl. Echoing Needleman and colleagues from 1979, Lanphear and colleagues argued in 2005 that prevailing standards for lead exposure were still too lax.

Blood lead in U.S. children, 1997-2015

BloodLeadChildren1997-2015

Source: U.S. Centers for Disease Control

In 2008 Todd A. Jusko at the University of Washington and colleagues at several other institutions published a new study of about 200 school children in Rochester, NY, who had been followed for six years. Results adjusted for social and economic factors showed IQ loss of about five points for children with blood lead about 5 to 10 ug/dl, compared with children with blood lead about 2 to 5 ug/dl. Findings from Lanphear and colleagues in 2005 showing harmfui effects of blood lead below 10 ug/dl were thus confirmed.

One might have thought the Obama administration would step into the situation by funding research with much larger subject groups and conducting exhaustive reviews of standards. However, there was no new large-scale research, and it took 3-1/2 years for significant progress revising standards. In May, 2012, the Centers for Disease Control lowered a threshold for blood lead in young children to 5 ug/dl, renaming that a “reference level” instead of a “level of concern.”

As reported by the Boston Globe, in the final days of the Obama administration the EPA “sidestepped the issue of a specific new threshold for acceptable lead levels” of soils in urban environments. The agency provided only “general guidance.”

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, February 26, 2018


Shelia Kaplan, EPA sidestepped decision to tighten standards for lead levels, leaving communities adrift, Boston Globe Media (Stat), March 28, 2017

Mary Tiemann, The Safe Drinking Water Act: a summary of the act and its major requirements, Congressional Research Service, 2017

Kathleen L. Caldwell et al., Measurement challenges at low blood lead levels, Pediatrics 140(2), August, 2017 (special article)

Steven D. Blatt, Howard L. Weinberger and Travis R. Hobart, Blood lead levels in young children: US, 2009-2015, Journal of Pediatrics 181:328-329, 2017

Mathy Stanislaus, Memorandum re updated scientific considerations for lead in soil cleanups, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, December 22, 2016

James Grout, ed., Lead poisoning and Rome, Encyclopedia Romana (University of Chicago), 2016

Blood lead levels in U.S. children, 1997-2015, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2016

Jianghong Liu et al., Impact of low blood-lead concentrations on IQ and school performance in Chinese children, Public Library of Science, PLoS One 8(5):1-8, 2013

Richard W. Hornung, Bruce P. Lanphear and Kim N. Dietrich, Age of greatest susceptibility to childhood lead exposure, Environmental Health Perspectives 117(8):1309-1312, 2009

Todd A. Jusko et al., Blood-lead concentrations less than 10 micrograms per deciliter and child intelligence at six years of age, Environmental Health Perspectives 116(2):243-248, 2008

David C. Bellinger, Very low lead exposures and children’s neurodevelopment, Current Opinion in Pediatrics 20(2):172–177, 2008

Claire B. Ernhart, Effects of lead on IQ in children, Environmental Health Perspectives 114(2):A85-A86, 2006

Bruce P. Lanphear et al., Low-level environmental lead exposure and children’s intellectual function: an international pooled analysis. Environmental Health Perspectives 113(7):894–899, 2005

David Rosner and Gerald Markowitz, Standing up to the lead industry: an interview with Herbert Needleman, Public Health Reports 120:330-337, 2005

William Koverik, Ethyl-leaded gasoline: how a classic occupational disease became an international public health disaster, International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health 11(4):384-397, 2005

Judah Ginsberg, Alice Hamilton and the development of occupational medicine, American Chemical Society, 2002

Herbert L. Needleman, The removal of lead from gasoline, Environmental Research A84(1):20-35, 2000

Sven Hernberg, Lead poisoning in an historical perspective, American Journal of Industrial Medicine 38(3):244-254, 2000

Christian Warren, Brush with Death: A Social History of Lead Poisoning, Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000

Herbert L. Needleman, Childhood lead poisoning: the promise and abandonment of primary prevention, American Journal of Public Health 88(12):1871-1877, 1998

Jerome Nriagu, Clair Patterson and environmental lead poisoning, Environmental Research 72(2):71-78, 1998 (abstract)

Bill Kovarik, Charles F. Kettering and the 1921 discovery of tetraethyl lead, Society of Automotive Engineers, 1994

Legislative history of lead-based paint, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, 1993

Preventing lead poisoning in young children, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1991
See Fig. 2.5, Change in blood-lead levels in relation to a decline in use of leaded gasoline

Herbert L. Needleman and David Bellinger, The health effects of low-level exposure to lead, Annual Review of Public Health 12:111-140, 1991

Michael Weisskopf, Auto pollution debate has a ring of the past, Washington Post, March 28, 1990

Jerome O. Nriagu, The rise and fall of leaded gasoline, Science of the Total Environment 92:13-28, 1990

Joel Schwartz and Hugh Pitcher, The relationship between gasoline lead and blood lead in the United States, U.S. Journal of Official Statistics 5(4):421-431, 1989

David Rosner and Gerald Markowitz, A gift of God?: The public health controversy over leaded gasoline during the 1920s, American Journal of Public Health 75(4):344-352. 1985

Herbert L. Needleman and Philip J. Landrigan, The health effects of low-level exposure to lead, Annual Review of Public Health 2:277-298, 1981

Herbert L. Needleman et al., Deficits in psychologic and classroom performance of children with elevated dentine lead levels, New England Journal of Medicine 300(13):689-695, 1979

Carole Schmidt, Lead determination in blood by atomic absorption spectroscopy, Journal of the American Industrial Hygiene Association 40(12):1085-1090, 1979

National Research Council, Airborne Lead in Perspective, U.S. National Academy of Sciences, 1972

Thomas F. Murphy, Shozo Nomoto, and William Sunderman, Jr., Measurements of blood lead by atomic absorption spectrometry, Annals of Clinical Laboratory Science 1(1):57-63, 1971

Richard M.S. McConaghey, Sir George Baker and the Devonshire colic, Medical History 11(4):345-360, 1967

Alan A. Moncrieff et al., Lead poisoning in children, Archives of Diseases in Childhood (UK) 39:1-13, 1964

J.E. Bradley et al., The incidence of abnormal blood levels of lead in a metropolitan pediatric clinic, Journal of Pediatrics 49(1):1-6, 1956

Arie J. Haagen-Smit, The control of air pollution in Los Angeles, Engineering and Science 18(3):11-16 (California Institute of Technology), 1954

Randolph K. Byers and Elizabeth E. Lord, Late effects of lead poisoning on mental development, American Journal of Diseases of Children 66(5):471-494, 1943

Alice Hamilton, Plumbism in the industries of the Middle West, Ohio Public Health Journal 2(1):3-11, 1912 (then the Monthly Bulletin of the Ohio State Board of Health)

W. Dowling Prendergast, The classification of the symptoms of lead poisoning, British Medical Journal 1(2576):1164-1168, 1910

George Baker, An essay concerning the cause of the endemial colic of Devonshire, J. Hughs (UK), 1767