Public forum addresses New Haven pollution

Approximately 25 people gathered at Hillhouse High School Monday night to discuss power plants in New Haven, the health problems associated with them and some possible measures to reduce pollution and conserve energy.

The discussion focused on recent concerns about health complications arising from power plant pollution in the city. Mark Mitchell, president of the Connecticut Coalition for Environmental Justice, said New Haven has the highest rate of rate of pollution in Connecticut.

Ward 28 Alderman Brian Jenkins and coalition board chairwoman Cynthia Jennings, a Bridgeport environmental lawyer, coordinated the forum.

Jenkins said the idea of organizing the forum came when he learned through Jennings of a similar meeting held at Hamden High School three weeks earlier. He said he felt it was important for New Haven to consider the problem as well.

“Kids are at risk, and asthma caused by pollution is a serious issue,” Jenkins said. “When [the issue] came to my attention I immediately pounced on it.”

Jennings agreed there is a pressing need to prevent pollution and take measures to prevent the operation of “dirty power plants.”

“The key is protecting the health of the community,” Jennings said. “It’s part of an environmental justice movement.”

The forum was open to the public and included presentations, speeches and time reserved for questions and answers. Topics covered included electrical transmission in southwestern Connecticut, the dangerous effects that power plants can have on humans and public health implications for New Haven in particular.

In his speech, Mitchell stressed the importance of addressing urban environmental issues.

“We know there is a direct connection between daily exposure to smog particles and a number of health illnesses,” Mitchell said.

He also said the pollution tends to target certain social groups because of where they live. Mitchell said blacks in particular experience more disease because they tend to live nearer to environmental hazards.

Representatives from the Northeast Utilities System of Connecticut Light and Power also attended the forum. Mitchell Gross, Manager of Transmission Communications, said he came at Jenkins’ request.

“I’ve attended a number of these energy forums,” Gross said. “We are trying our best to find ways to help alleviate the problem.”

His colleague agreed.

“We’re here for education and information on the issue,” said David Boguslawski, vice president of transmission at Northeast Utilities System.

Boguslawski described an alternative plan to building power plants: importing power from power plants in other areas. He suggested using transmission lines to bring in the power.

Another potential remedy for the pollution problem, Boguslawski said, is the conservation of energy. He said United Illuminating of New Haven has spent $100 million in efforts to conserve and reduce energy consumption.

Jenkins said the forum was a first step to understanding a major concern and finding a solution to it. He said he hopes there will be a follow-up to the forum and that New Haven will pay more attention to the problem.

“I hope a plan will spawn from the forum,” Jenkins said.

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