An application before the Pawtucket Planning Commission is seeking permission to build an asphalt drum—a manufacturing location for asphalt—at 560 Mineral Spring Ave. Asphalt is a black, cement-like substance produced by distilling crude oil during petroleum refining. The three major types of asphalt products are paving asphalts, roofing asphalts, and asphalt-based paints, all of them familiar fixtures in our city.
As Councilors of adjoining wards in the City of Pawtucket, we have two serious concerns with this proposal. The first is a question of health and quality of life: these plants release millions of pounds of chemicals to the air during production each year, including many cancer-causing toxic air pollutants such as arsenic, benzene, formaldehyde (the same stuff we preserve cats in for high school biology class), and cadmium. Other toxic chemicals are released into the air as the asphalt is loaded into trucks and hauled from the plant site. The Center for Disease Control has documented carcinogens from asphalt fumes generated at work sites such as the one proposed here, and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health recommends limiting the exposure to asphalt fumes because of that. Elsewhere in the country, construction of such facilities has negative effects on real estate values and quality of life. One study showed that property values decreased up to 56 percent after an asphalt plant was put in.
Further, this is an example of what we might call “environmental injustice”—companies trying to place undesirable facilities in poor communities. Across the United States, this is a well-known phenomenon in which poor neighborhoods and cities are asked to bear the physical and (toxic) chemical burden of development that primarily benefits wealthier areas and neighborhoods. The west side of Pawtucket has become the dumping ground for these types of businesses. We already deal with a privately-owned transfer station that hauls hundreds of tons of trash daily through our neighborhood, and a power plant (Pawtucket Power, in close proximity to a day care), an established asphalt company (Pawtucket Asphalt), a trash truck and dumpster repair facility operated by Link Environmental, and lastly, ethanol storage tanks (highly flammable) that are periodically staged on the train tracks directly across from a neighborhood daycare center. The west side of Pawtucket can no longer afford to be the dumping ground for manufacturing businesses that have a negative effect on our quality of life, while also posing health and safety wellness concerns upon our residents.
Pawtucket is a dignified, strong community with a rich history and a diverse, thoughtful population. As elected officials, we cannot in good conscience give our blessing to a plant that is harmful to the residents of our community in so many ways, and we publicly oppose the construction of this plant. This proposal is scheduled for the Planning Commission on April 18th and the Pawtucket Zoning Board for April 24th, and we encourage citizens to attend both meetings to make their voices heard.