Teacher salaries: gains and losses

Public-school teachers in several states have been challenging unfairly low pay and inadequate resources. Reflecting its suburban liberal views, a recent New York Times report charted changes in public-school spending across the United States since the Vietnam War era. A longer span would have shown how unusual the recent funding lapses have been–breaking a rising tide of investment in public schools extending since at least the 1920s.

Public elementary and secondary school spending

UsPublicSchoolSpending1929-2014

Source: U.S. Department of Education, 2018

Major changes in U.S. public education are often faintly remembered. For European-American, English-speaking students, the norm of basic literacy and arithmetic skills was a revolution during the early nineteenth century. The extensions to high-school education and participation of African-American students, native-American students and foreign-language speakers took over a century more. A high-school education became a national norm only in the 1950s.

Percent elementary and secondary school enrollments

UsSchoolEnrollments1900-1990

Source: U.S. Department of Education, 1993

Costs of living: Few reports on recent strikes and protests over teacher pay and school spending consider how costs of living warp the comparisons. Because of steep costs for housing, utilities and food, when an apparently middle-class $58 thousand average yearly pay for Hawaii teachers is adjusted for the state’s high cost of living against the U.S. average cost of living, it shrinks to about $33 thousand–near the edge of poverty.

The following table shows average salaries of K-12 public-school teachers by states. They are adjusted by statewide costs of living: equal for a state matching the U.S. average cost and proportionately scaled for states with higher or lower costs. The table also shows percentage changes in teacher pay–using constant, U.S. inflation-adjusted dollars–over 47 years that the U.S. Department of Education has analyzed data.

Average teacher pay, adjusted for costs of living

State Adj. Pay Change
Michigan $74,100 -1.5%
Pennsylvania $69,002 +15.7%
Illinois $67,725 +0.2%
Ohio $65,992 +6.9%
Wyoming $65,558 +10.9%
Iowa $64,892 +3.3%
Georgia $64,260 +16.8%
New York $64,227 +19.9%
Massachusetts $62,560 +38.2%
Delaware $62,532 +4.0%
Connecticut $61,686 +22.0%
Texas $61,603 +12.8%
Minnesota $61,465 +3.1%
Wisconsin $61,093 -4.5%
New Jersey $61,033 +18.7%
Nebraska $60,203 +10.5%
Kentucky $59,690 +17.2%
California $59,653 +18.8%
Indiana $59,300 -10.9%
Arkansas $59,170 +20.0%
Nevada $58,560 -3.1%
Alabama $57,830 +11.6%
Tennessee $57,662 +7.0%
Rhode Island $57,474 +17.9%
Missouri $57,404 -3.6%
Kansas $56,847 -1.9%
Louisiana $56,600 +10.8%
North Carolina $56,296 +3.5%
Maryland $55,598 +11.1%
Alaska $55,455 +0.4%
North Dakota $55,325 +20.0%
Idaho $55,058 +7.3%
Montana $54,731 +5.2%
Oklahoma $54,203 +2.3%
Washington $54,026 -8.6%
Mississippi $53,901 +15.3%
New Mexico $53,487 -5.2%
Virginia $53,377 -1.5%
Vermont $53,286 +17.6%
New Hampshire $53,201 +14.7%
Florida $53,169 -8.6%
Arizona $52,987 -15.3%
Utah $52,754 -3.8%
District of Columbia $52,250 +15.2%
South Carolina $52,193 +9.2%
Oregon $50,935 +8.8%
West Virginia $50,924 -7.0%
Colorado $48,579 -6.7%
Maine $48,047 +5.0%
South Dakota $45,824 +3.7%
Hawaii $32,730 -5.0%

Source: U.S. Department of Education, 2018

Contrary to impressions colored by recent teacher strikes, Kentucky, Arkansas and Arizona do not come out as drastically unfair states. Instead they rank 17, 20 and 42 nationally on teacher pay–adjusted for state costs of living. Hawaii, South Dakota and Maine are at the bottom of that list–on average paying public-school teachers the equivalents of about $33, $46 and $48 thousand per year, as adjusted to states nearest the average U.S. costs of living: notably Maine, Washington, Nevada and Delaware.

Similarly, California, New York and Massachusetts are not top-paying states–as popularly reported–when considered against costs of living. Instead Michigan, Pennsylvania and Illinois are at the top of that list–on average paying public-school teachers the equivalents of about $74, $69 and $68 thousand per year, as adjusted to states nearest the average U.S. costs of living.

Gains and losses: In the Change column, the table reflects gainers and losers among the states. The public-school teachers of Massachusetts have been by far the greatest gainers. Their average pay, adjusted for inflation, rose about 38 percent between 1969 and 2016. Over that period, the public-school teachers of Arizona have been the greatest losers. Their average pay, adjusted for inflation, fell about 15 percent–most of those losses since 2009. In 1969, Arizona ranked 20th nationally in unadjusted teacher pay, but in 2016 it ranked 45th.

State public-school spending per student

Not adjusted for state costs of living

UsStateSchoolSpending2014

Source: U.S. Department of Education, 2018

On average, annual pay of U.S. public school teachers reached about $59,500 for school year 2016, adjusted for statewide costs of living, an increase of about 8 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars over the previous 50 years. However, there are many more stories to be told about gains and losses. Although they involve economics, they more often reflect politics.

While Massachusetts has seen an economic success-run, thanks to high tech, it has been strong teacher unions that tapped the wealth. The state now ranks ninth from the top in teacher pay, but if the state had made only an average increase in teacher pay it would rank fifth from the bottom. No force in government is compensating for enormous gaps in average public-school teacher pay between the states: as adjusted for costs of living, about $33 thousand a year in Hawaii versus $74 thousand a year in Michigan.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, June 5, 2018


Robert Gebeloff, Numbers that explain why teachers are in revolt, New York Times, June 4, 2018

Ricardo Cano, Pay raises for teachers and staff vary across Arizona school districts, Arizona Republic (Phoenix, AZ), June 3, 2018

David M. Perry, Why the Arizona teachers strike should terrify anti-union governors, Pacific Standard (Social Justice Foundation, Santa Barbara, CA), May 3, 2018

Michael Hansen, Hidden factors contributing to teacher strikes in Oklahoma, Kentucky and beyond, Brookings Institution (Washington, DC), April 6, 2018

Digest of Education Statistics for 2016, U.S National Center for Education Statistics, February, 2018

Current expenditures per pupil for public elementary and secondary education by state during 2015, Figure 1 in Cornman, et al., January, 2018 (category bounds $9,000 $11,000 $13,000 $15,000 per year)

Stephen Q. Cornman, Lei Zhou and Malia R. Howell, Revenues and expenditures for public elementary and secondary education during school year 2014, U.S. National Center for Education Statistics, January, 2018

Estimated average annual salary of teachers in public elementary and secondary schools by state, U.S. Digest of Education Statistics (preliminary), Table 211 for 2017, January, 2018

Costs of living data by states for 2017, Missouri Economic Research and Information Center, January, 2018

Thomas D. Snyder, ed., American education: statistical portrait of 120 years, U.S. Department of Education, 1993

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

Plastic ban: tragedy of unforeseen consequences

In November, 2012, a Brookline, MA, town meeting stumbled when trying to ban polystyrene food packaging. The effort was boosted by an informal, so-called “Green Caucus” and was strongly endorsed by Brookline PAX, a 50-year-old organization formed to promote international peace and social justice. The outcome became a tragedy of unforeseen consequences.

Advocates for Article 8 attacked all forms of styrene-containing plastics as products “harmful to human health…[and] detrimental to the environment.” However, the bylaw the 2012 town meeting enacted bans only “polystyrene food or beverage containers…used…to package or serve food or beverages if that packaging takes place on the premises….” When a container is not technically “polystyrene” or when packaging takes place outside Brookline premises, then containers made with styrene monomers are allowed.

Town Meeting, its “Green Caucus” and Brookline PAX failed to consider how food businesses and the packaging industry would react to banning polystyrene packaging–which they often misnamed “Styrofoam,” a registered U.S. trademark for an open-cell foam material not usable as food packaging. Town Meeting and the proponents did not make realistic plans for the future. Brookline now suffers because of that.

In the wake of bans in Oregon, Massachusetts, Maine and New York, research on patterns of solid waste showed that banning polystyrene-foam food containers does not reduce the burdens. In 2015, the California Water Resources Control Board found that “a ban of foam takeout items would result only in the substitution of other products that would be discarded in the same manner.”

A market on Harvard Street provides a pointed example. The managers formerly used polystyrene-foam trays for packaged food, including uncooked chicken and beef. These are mainstays, sold in large amounts. Their replacement packaging uses flat, solid plastic sheets thermally formed into trays. The plastic appears to be a copolymer that includes styrene along with other monomers but may not technically be “polystyrene.”

The managers found the replacement trays too floppy and unstable, and they double them up. Each package they sell has two solid plastic trays jammed together. That weighs several times as much as the former polystyrene-foam trays. Because it contains much more plastic resin, one of the new trays surely costs more, but customers like the market and are apparently willing to pay more.

The next least costly alternative would probably use even larger amounts of different plastics, as some restaurants are now doing. The result has been a financial and environmental tragedy–waste of natural resources, more emissions and no benefit to anyone but plastic and chemical manufacturers. One can “make a statement” if that were all that mattered. However, practical results betray environmental goals that Town Meeting, its “Green Caucus” and Brookline PAX claimed to support.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, April 28, 2018


General Bylaws, Town of Brookline, MA, 2018
See Article 8.32, Prohibition on the use of polystyrene disposable food containers.

Steven Stein, Take it from a trash researcher, banning polystyrene food containers won’t do any good, Los Angeles Times, June 28, 2017

Minority report in opposition to polystyrene product ban, City Council of Portland, ME, 2013

Minutes of a special town meeting, Town of Brookline, MA, November 13, 2012
See Eighth Article, pp.. 24-27.

Warrant Report, Fall Town Meeting, Town of Brookline, MA, November, 2012
See Article 8, starting on p. 8-1.

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

China’s air pollution: a four-letter word

Coal.

After it emerged from the Communist blackout during the 1970s, China prospered by building export industries, largely powered by coal. In earlier times, China was only a modest consumer of energy. Recent governments promoted heavy industry–including metals and other mineral products–exploiting the country’s largest energy resource. Each year since 2010, China consumed more coal than all the rest of the world.

Coal consumption in China and elsewhere

ChinaCoal1965-2016

Source: BP Review of World Energy, 2017

Communist emperor Hu Jintao (2003-2013) built coal-fired electricity plants, blast furnaces, smelters, cement kilns and pottery ovens, never seeming to look back. His regime turned China into the world’s Coal Empire and sent its capital into a new Dark Age. Beijing, along with much of northeast China, has been suffering from massive air pollution–comparable to Pittsburgh at its worst in the 1940s.

As angry protests grew, successor Xi Jinping feared losing the Mandate of Heaven and started to tamp down some of the coal burning. Four years later, northeast China showed little air-quality improvement. That is hardly surprising, since Chinese coal consumption, after growing by a factor of about 2-1/2 over the ten years of Communist emperor Hu, shrank only about two percent during the first four years of Xi.

Propaganda: Government media in China often tout national progress in renewable energy: a government subsidized solar-panel industry and the growth of wind farms. However, modest growth in solar and wind energy has been swamped by surging outputs from coal-fired power plants.

Recently the independent TMT Post (Telecommunications, Media and Technology, based in Beijing) reported in Chinese about plans to replace conventionally fueled cars with electric vehicles, citing a speech by Xin Guobin, China’s Vice Minister of Industry. As electricity is actually generated in China, using it to power vehicles becomes more of an environmental threat than burning gasoline.

For the same amount of mechanical energy, both the toxic and the greenhouse gas emissions are higher. A few years ago, some Chinese engineers spoke hopefully about cleaner and more efficient generating plants, but high costs made them a small element in the power industry. Recently, air pollution–darkening the skies–was reported as causing up to 35-percent losses at Chinese solar farms.

Death by air: China’s air pollution from coal is causing more than a quarter million premature deaths a year, as reported in the New York Times. Economist Michael Greenstone of the University of Chicago and four other academics recently found that in the northeast provinces of Shanxi and Hebei air pollution from burning coal has shortened life expectancy by three years.

So far the Xi regime failed to make a significant difference. After enforcing some restrictions on coal for a couple of years, reports of lower economic growth led to retrenchment. Initiatives to switch from coal to natural gas made minimal progress, because China lacks gas reserves and infrastructure to transport gas. In rural areas, many Chinese are reported to defy regulations and burn coal and waste wood for home heating.

China’s choices are economic. There is no practical way to reconcile headlong growth fueled by coal with good air quality and normal life expectancy. It will be one or the other. If air quality gets substantial improvement–no matter what combination of strategies might be employed–the Chinese economy will slow down in order to pay for it.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, January 8, 2018


Zhou Chen, Li Rongde and Wu Xiao, Thousands in rural China secretly burn coal as gas prices soar, Caixin Global (Beijing), December 8, 2017 (in English)

Unattributed, China does U-turn on coal ban to avert heating crisis, BBC (UK), December 8, 2017

Muyu Xu and Dominique Patton, North China air quality shows no improvement, Reuters (UK), October 28, 2017

Joshua S. Hill, Severe Chinese air pollution cuts solar energy potential as much as 35 percent, Clean Technica, October 24, 2017

Chinese coal-fired electricity generation expected to flatten as mix shifts to renewables, U.S. Energy Information Administration, September 27, 2017

Vicki Ekstrom High, Air pollution cuts three years off lifespans in northern China, University of Chicago News, September 11, 2017

Unattributed, Vice Minister of Industry Xin Guobin: China is studying traditional-fuel vehicle timetable, TMT Post (Beijing), September 9, 2017 (in Chinese)

Statistical review of world energy, British Petroleum (UK), June, 2017

Edward Wong, Study finds coal burning causing the most air-pollution deaths in China, New York Times, August 17, 2016

Jake Spring, In coal-powered China, electric car surge fuels fear of worsening smog, Reuters (UK), January 27, 2016

Matt Sheehan, Power politics behind China’s climate pledge, Huffington Post, November 14, 2014

David Stanway, Pollution worst on record in Beijing, Reuters (UK), January 12, 2013

Anders Norbom Walløe, The Mandate of Heaven: Why is the Chinese Communist Party still in control of China?, University of Oslo, 2012

Jonathan Watts, Two faces of China’s giant coal industry, Manchester Guardian (UK), November 15, 2009

Craig Bolon, China’s influence on nuclear power, Brookline Beacon, September 9, 2016

Wind energy: broken promises

“Falmouth selectmen decided…not to appeal a judge’s determination that [two wind turbines] must be shut down.” As noted by the Boston Globe in 2017, they were “simply built too close to homes.” Not mentioned in the Globe: potential harms to residents’ health had been clear years before when the turbines were proposed, yet the project had been promoted by a prominent state official during the Patrick administration.

Small-scale collapse: The Falmouth wind-power crisis was entirely foreseeable, It sprang from ignorance of the Patrick administration’s first energy secretary. He was a Falmouth native who had no strong qualifications for that job–even reported as having trouble with high-school chemistry. Rather than invest in scientific knowledge, he spent much of a career as a “policy analyst.”

Former Gov. Patrick’s first-term energy agenda was also bollixed by a wholly avoidable fracas over burning wood for energy–a gross source of ordinary, fine-particle air pollution. At the start of a second term, Patrick insisted that all “cabinet officers” resign. He then reappointed each one except for the former energy secretary, and he soon restructured policy, moving away from wind energy and toward solar energy.

Large-scale collapse: The Nantucket Sound wind-power collapse was not entirely forseeable. That is a rare region of Massachusetts with fairly strong and reliable winds. Aside from local politics, an obstacle dating from the 1990s had been vague costs to mount wind turbines offshore. European equipment suppliers were able to hide information by getting governments to sponsor infrastructure work. As late as 2007, a review by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory warned about “high and uncertain costs.”

Political struggles over Cape Wind were often waged by proxy. During 2003, for instance, Michael Egan of Osterville and other opponents funded a review by a nominally nonprofit organization, claiming the project would cost the region more than $60 million a year in lost revenue because of fewer tourists and lower real estate values. During those years, Cape Wind’s chief developer Jim Gordon was constantly on the defensive and would not say much about financial issues.

In November, 2010, the Patrick administration set a price, approving a power-purchase agreement between Cape Wind and National Grid–the largest utility in southeastern Massachusetts–starting at $0.187 per kWh. For the year 2010, ISO New England reported an average wholesale price for electricity distributed in New England of $0.0593 per kWh. Cape Wind came to market at more than three times New England’s average price.

The high price shifted opinions away from Cape Wind. Many felt Cape Wind had lied to the public about the feasibility of its plans. Under 2010 contracts with utilities, Cape Wind got until the end of 2014 to start construction. Opponents tried to hinder Cape Wind with lawsuits. They prevailed; Cape Wind never installed a wind turbine. At the end of 2014, utilities terminated contracts with Cape Wind for lack of performance. That marked the end of a regional era in wind energy, coming at the end of the Patrick administration.

Progress and prospects: So far there has been no dramatic surge of wind power in New England. Instead, some states have been turning away. Although New Hampshire and Vermont have promising wind potentials, after about 2010 their politics swang against wind turbines. Preservationists there call them “industrial wind.”

The development of wind energy in New England is strongly skewed toward the northern states. Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont have about 90 percent of the rated generating capacity, with 68 percent just in Maine. Sources of data report amounts that differ, mostly because of dates when wind farms are considered active.

Rated MW, end of year 2016

    5 Connecticut
901 Maine
115 Massachusetts
185 New Hampshire
    9 Rhode Island
119 Vermont

Source: American Wind Energy Association

Since taking office in 2011, Maine’s aggressive and racist Gov. LePage has missed few chances to oppose wind and solar energy development. His chief advisor has been an appliance installer with no scientific training. However, wind-energy business in Maine is also aggressive. After being stymied in 2013 and 2014, developers came back strongly the next two years, opening six wind farms and doubling Maine’s capacity. Because of term limits, LePage leaves office in January, 2019.

Since 2012, the remainder of New England has seen little wind-energy activity, adding less than 20 MW of rated capacity on land. While it was clear that former Gov. Patrick in Massachusetts and former Gov. Shumlin in Vermont stepped aside in the face of political forces, the situation in New Hampshire remains murky. Geographies of Connecticut and Rhode Island offer little land-based wind potential, although there is substantial potential over Long Island Sound and nearby ocean.

Wind turbines seen from Barlows Point, Block Island, simulated view

BlockIslandSimulatedViewBarlowsPoint

Source: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 2013

In the spring of 2017, the Deepwater Wind company reached full power with a 5-turbine offshore wind farm, rated at 30 MW, located just south of Block Island–part of Rhode Island southwest of Narragansett Bay. The starting wholesale price of energy is very high: $0.244 per kWh. However, Block Island was never connected to the New England grid before and was paying even higher prices to a company operating a small plant using diesel engines.

There are no similar offshore opportunities of comparable size elsewhere in New England. However, Martha’s Vineyard and–ironically–Nantucket both suffer from frequent problems. They receive electricity from the New England grid, but demands often exceed supply. When that happens, voltages sag and can drift out of phase with currents.

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


Katharine Q. Seelye, After 16 years, hopes for offshore wind farm in Massachusetts blow away, New York Times, December 19, 2017

Wilson Ring, Associated Press, Vermont wind-turbine noise rules displease everyone, Portland (ME) Press Herald, November 13, 2017

Doug Harlow, Anti-wind group opposes plans for 200 turbines in Somerset County, Kennebec (ME) Journal, August 15, 2017

Fred Sever, Should northern New England host transmission lines?, Maine Public Radio, August 7, 2017

Jon Chesto, Two Cape windmills have stopped spinning, but someone still has to pay, Boston Globe, July 12, 2017

Cassius Shuman, Island operating on wind farm power, Block Island (RI) Times, May 1, 2017

Tux Turkel, Refrigeration technician is LePage’s energy policy adviser, Portland (ME) Press Herald, February 19, 2017

Unattributed, Maine Governor Paul LePage criticized for racist remarks, BBC (UK), August 27, 2016

Bruce Mohl, Utilities terminate Cape Wind power contracts, Commonwealth, January 6, 2015

Wholesale load cost report for December, 2010, ISO New England, January 18, 2011

Steve LeBlanc, Associated Press, Gov. Patrick taps DCR chief as energy secretary, Boston Globe, December 1, 2010

Rodrique Ngowi and Jay Lindsay, Massachusetts regulators approve offshore wind power deal, Boston Globe, November 22, 2010

Steve LeBlanc, Associated Press, Wood power worse polluter than coal, Boston Globe, June 10, 2010

Ryan Wiser and Mark Bolinger, Annual Report on U.S. Wind Power Installation, Cost and Performance Trends, Lawrence Berkely National Laboratory, 2008

Scott Allen, Study funded by foe says wind turbines to hurt Cape tourism, Boston Globe, October 28, 2003

Craig Bolon, Renewables: inherit the wind, Brookline Beacon, June 3, 2017

Craig Bolon, Surfing a vortex: energy and climate, Brookline Beacon, February 12, 2017

Craig Bolon, Renewable energy: New England experience, Brookline Beacon, August 15, 2015

Craig Bolon, Rhode Island: offshore wind-power, winning and losing, Brookline Beacon, July 26, 2015

Anti-missiles: blind and misguided

U.S. missile interceptors take off with great roars, bright flames and plumes of smoke. There’s just one big problem. They don’t reliably intercept missiles. In Arabia, five of the latest PAC-3 interceptors, from the Raytheon Patriot family, failed to stop one SCUD-variant ballistic missile launched from about 600 miles away in Yemen.

Missed missiles: A missile exploded at the Riyadh airport on November 4, 2017, a few hundred yards from the main passenger terminal. At least one of the PAC-3 interceptors launched by Arabian forces against it may have struck the rocket motor of the incoming missile. If so, the missile’s warhead had detached, continuing toward its target. Only poor incoming guidance probably prevented a disaster.

SCUD missiles, originally developed in the former Soviet Union, have never been more than terror weapons. Their liquid fuels make them clumsy to transport and unlikely to provide rapid response. Their poor guidance means they usually miss by spans big enough that their explosives fail to disable strategic targets.

Modern anti-missile systems might be able to counter the original SCUD missiles, but recent variants have a new feature: detachable warheads. If an explosive warhead detaches before an incoming missile has been struck, interception is likely to fail. Current anti-missile systems have not been able to strike a detached warhead. In Arabia, U.S. missile interceptors look to have failed at least twice during the year 2017.

Technology sales: Arabia currently relies on U.S. anti-missile technologies but may be starting to regret that. AP and other mainstream news media pay little attention to the issues, but reports from specialty news sites mention contacts with Russian organizations. Turkey, which previously relied on U.S. technology, has already jumped ship.

Early U.S. Patriot anti-missile systems were highly touted, but independent U.S. experts documented failure rates of more than 90 percent. The latest generation of Patriot missile interceptors is getting its first hostile exposures in Arabia. As usual, U.S. defense contractors and the host country’s military claim they achieved success, but so far independent U.S. experts find failure.

Turkey recently agreed to buy two S-400 anti-missile systems from Russia, the first to be installed in 2020. However, it’s not clear whether Russian technology actually has advantages. The critical tests are hostile engagements, and few have yet been reported that involve the S-400. One system installed by Russia in Latakia, Syria, failed to intercept strikes by U.S. cruise missiles in April, 2017.

Distant misses: Long-range U.S. GMD interceptors–all but a few stationed in Alaska–have an even more dismal record. Despite more than $40 billion spent on them over more than 20 years, there has never been a realistic test of interception. Only one test was directed toward a long-range missile. It was a set-up stunt, aiming the attacking missile almost directly at the defending one.

A follow-up test in the Pacific, involving Japan, failed to intercept another missile. It had been intended to demonstrate U.S. “defense in depth”–ability to intercept missiles from North Korea at shorter ranges. Following that failed test, Raytheon received a federal production contract for the SM-3, Block IIA interceptor that was tested–despite evidence the system does not work reliably.

To many with long memories, the Trump administration, as well as the Putin regime in Russia, look to be building “Maginot Line” defenses, recalling bunkers built in France during the 1930s that failed to stop Nazi invasions near the start of World War II. The grossly inflated U.S. military budget pays for more and more systems known to be unreliable. Just as the Nazis did, enemies would seek paths they cannot defend.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, December 29, 2017


Tuvan Gumrukcu and Ece Toksabay, Turkey and Russia sign deal on S-400 missile interceptors, Reuters (UK), December 29, 2017

Katie Paul and Rania El Gamal, Saudi Arabia says it intercepts Houthi missile fired toward Riyadh, Reuters (UK), December 19, 2017

Aziz El Yaakoubi, Houthis say missile targeted meeting of Saudi leaders, Reuters (UK), December 19, 2017

Max Fisher, Eric Schmitt, Audrey Carlsen and Malachy Browne, U.S. interceptor missile appeared to fail in Arabia, New York Times, December 4, 2017

Sylvia Westall, Rania el Gamal, Tom Perry and Stephanie Nebehay, Saudi crown prince calls Iran supply of rockets military aggression, Reuters (UK), November 7, 2017

Shuaib Almosawa and Anne Barnard, Saudis intercept missile fired from Yemen that came close to Riyadh, New York Times, November 4, 2017

Stephen Carlson, Raytheon receives $614.5 million for SM-3 Block IIA ballistic missile interceptors, UPI, August 29, 2017

Stefan Becket, U.S. missile defense test fails to intercept target over Pacific, CBS News, June 22, 2017

Laura Grego, What you should know about the upcoming GMD missile defense test, Union of Concerned Scientists (Cambridge, MA), May 29, 2017 (part 1)

Robert Burns, Associated Press, U.S. plans first test of ICBM intercept, with North Korea in mind, WTOP (Washington, DC), May 26, 2017

John R. Haines, Putin’s Maginot Line exposed by North Korea’s missile launch, Foreign Policy Research Institute (Philadelphia, PA), May 17, 2017

Tom Balmforth, After U.S. strikes Syrian airbase, Russians ask: where were our vaunted air-defense systems?, Radio Free Europe, April 7, 2017

Laura Grego, George N. Lewis and David Wright, Shielded from Oversight: The Disastrous U.S. Approach to Strategic Missile Defense (60 pages), Union of Concerned Scientists (Cambridge, MA), July, 2016

Barton Gellman, Study cuts Patriot anti-missile success to nine percent, Washington Post, September 20, 1992

Craig Bolon, Star Wars revisited: shooting fish in a barrel, Brookline Beacon, September 4, 2017

Craig Bolon, Undeclared wars: the rain of U.S. cruise missiles, Brookline Beacon, April 9, 2017

Concrete cancer: silent threat

Portland concrete is the most common building material–generally strong, inexpensive and readily applied. World production now runs around 60 quadrillion pounds of finished concrete a year. While much of it will remain sturdy for decades, some degrades far sooner–from both internal and external causes. Major internal defects are sometimes called “concrete cancer.”

Internal problems of Portland concrete–a mixture of Portland cement, stone and water–are often caused by incompatible stone aggregate, comprising around three-quarters of finished concrete by weight. Problem aggregates may contain clay, shale, dolomite rock, gypsum, sulfide minerals or chemically active silica that can can cause concrete to swell and crack over time. Some such damage may appear soon after concrete mixing and setting, but other damage can emerge years later.

Costs of transporting heavy, bulky materials mostly limit concrete suppliers to local and regional sources. Using practical sources, they try to prepare mixtures that provide good strength and long-term reliability. In the Appalachian and Rocky Mountain regions of the United States, many sources of stone are igneous rocks that come from mountains dominating the geology of those regions. They have characteristic hazards.

Latent problems: Portland concrete’s problems can appear as spalling breakage–notably around joints and edges–as pop-out fragments that dislodge from surfaces, as shallow cracks that are often nearly parallel and as deep cracks at different angles that intersect. The first three problems may develop in days to months from ineffective composition, mixing or installation. They can sometimes be repaired.

A pattern of deep, intersecting cracks–sometimes called “map cracks”–that emerges years after concrete has set can indicate defects in materials, potentially leading to structural failure. Attempts to repair this type of defect often fail, as more of the deep, intersecting cracks continue to appear. These problems are caused by materials that slowly swell, overstressing and fracturing a solid concrete matrix.

Deep map cracks in Portland concrete

ConcreteDeepMapCracks
Source: U.S. Department of Transportation

Problem types and tests: Some latent problems are related to stresses occurring in use. Those are provoked by variable loads on concrete structures–as experienced by pavements and bridges for example–or by changing temperatures, especially cycles of freezing and thawing. Many reviews address them under the heading D-cracking or “distress cracking.” In contrast, latent problems related to materials will appear when bearing loads and temperatures are nearly constant–for example, in a house foundation.

Tests of compressive strength, typically performed about a month after preparing concrete, rarely reveal latent problems with materials. Despite decades of research and attempts at specification, So far there has been no single test method for qualifying concrete materials that fully insures against latent problems. The most effective guard against them is long-term experience with specific sources.

Alkali reactions: Latent problems have been recognized since the 1930s that are caused by reactions of alkalis, produced by mixing Portland cement and water, with components of stone aggregates. They were first documented by the late Thomas E. Stanton, an engineer working at the California Division of Highways. The most common problem comes from reactive silica imbedded in stone aggregates.

Stone of both igneous and sedimentary origin may contain reactive silica. Among igneous (and metamorphic) sources, it is fairly common in granite, gneiss and hornfels. It is not usually found in andesite, basalt, gabbro or tuff. Particle size is a critical factor, with fine sand sizes to small pebble sizes typically the most troublesome.

Adding pozzolans, such as natural pumice or furnace fly-ash, can suppress effects of reactive silica. They combine with calcium hydroxide from Portland cement, reducing its alkalinity and strengthening it. Mixtures of calcined lime and pumice made highly durable Roman mortars and cements. However, the amounts of various pozzolans needed with different Portland cements and stone aggregates and the optimum concrete curing cycles remain in some dispute.

A less common alkali-related problem can occur when dolomite–mostly magnesium-calcium carbonate–is a component in stone aggregate of sedimentary origin. Harmful swelling of afflicted concrete tends to be more rapid than swelling caused by reactive silica. Unfortunately, tests that help control reactive silica may not give reliable results with dolomite, and adding pozzolans does not help.

Sulfides: Sulfides occur occasionally in igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic rocks. When a stone aggregate containing sulfides is used to make Portland concrete, it can cause latent problems by primary swelling and through oxidation to sulfates. Problems have been reported in Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. They were first documented in the 1960s by the late Richard C. Mielenz, a geologist and civil engineer who later served as president of the American Concrete Institute.

Contamination of Portland concrete with sulfides is less common than with reactive silica and dolomite. It has received less attention. However, major problems developed in Canada, near Montreal, and in eastern Connecticut, near the town of Willington–affecting thousands of home and other building foundations. There is currently no known way to suppress problems with sulfides. Correcting damages often involves costly work to excavate and replace failed concrete.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, November 15, 2017


Mineral Commodity Surveys, U.S. Geological Survey, 2017 (world cement, p. 45)

Kay Wille and Rui Zhong, Investigating the deterioration of basement walls made of concrete in Connecticut, University of Connecticut, 2016

I. Oliveira, S.H.P. Cavalaro and A. Aguado, Evolution of pyrrhotite oxidation in aggregates for concrete, Construction Materials 64(316):e038 (Materiales de Construcción, Madrid, Spain, in English), 2014

M.D.A. Thomas, B. Fournier and K.J. Folliard, Alkali-aggregate reactivity, Federal Highway Administration, U.S. Department of Transportation, 2013

Thomas Schmidt, Andreas Leemann, Emanuel Gallucci and Karen Scrivener, Physical and microstructural aspects of iron sulfide degradation in concrete, Cement and Concrete Research 41(3):263-269. 2011

Michelle L. Wilson and Steven H. Kosmatka, eds., Aggregates for concrete, Chapter 5 in Design and Control of Concrete Mixtures, 16th Edition, Portland Cement Association, 2011

James A. Farny and Beatrix Kerkhoff, Diagnosis and control of alkali-aggregate reactions in concrete, Portland Cement Association, 2007

Handbook for identification of alkali-silica reactivity in airfield pavements, Federal Aviation Administration, U.S. Department of Transportation, 2004

M.Y. Shahin and S.D. Kohn, Paver’s concrete distress manual, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 2nd Edition, 1997

E.A. Whitehurst, D-cracking and aggregate size, Concrete Contruction, August 1, 1980

Richard C. Mielenz, Reactions of aggregates involving solubility, oxidation, sulfates or sulfides, Highway Research Record 43:8-18, National Research Council (Washington, DC), 1963