Guest Op-Ed: Social Responsibility on a Sunday Afternoon

By Jessica Ann Giannino

Sunday afternoon started out as a beautiful summer day on the North Shore. Just before 2PM things took a turn as East Saugus became cloaked in toxic smoke. As terrified residents turned to social media for information, it quickly became clear that once more, Wheelabrator was spewing noxious poison gasses into the air. In the midst of a pandemic, residents were on edge and our district’s emergency responders were forced to waste even more resources on our least favorite neighbor. 

This is nothing new for Saugus and surrounding communities. The horrific smells of the unlined landfill, the constant noise pollution and the carcinogenic chemicals that this rapidly aging, unstable incinerator dumps into the environment are daily reminders of the blatant disregard this company has for the health of its’ neighbors. For reasons that are inexplicable, Wheelabrator continues to ignore the complaints as regulators continue to ignore the company’s transgressions.

Sunday was toxic smoke, a few weeks back it was the constant and atrocious noise from venting. A company that cared about the health and welfare of others might have expended resources to repair the broken turbines that disrupted the neighborhood, but not Wheelabrator. Instead, they acquired New England hauler as part of a vertical integration strategy that will bring even more waste to their facility. More waste means more problems.

Companies like Wheelabrator are everywhere. Their corporate culture puts profits over people. They are oftentimes sued by states and employees for wage theft and countless other labor and safety standard violations. Unfortunately, Wheelabrator is even worse because their harmful practices extend far beyond their employees and pollute our air, water and food supply – and yet our state government fails to hold them accountable.

As a Revere City Councilor and founding member of the Alliance for the Environment, I have stood with my neighbors and friends in Saugus in the fight against Wheelabrator. Together we have been sounding the alarm, fighting the fight and exposing this dump and the dozens of flagrant violations of laws and regulations. And as your State Representative, I will not stop the fight for Environmental Justice (EJ). I will not stop until Wheelabrator is held accountable and brought into compliance with standards that protect people, not profits. 

Massachusetts’ EJ policy has not been updated since 2017, and the criteria and demographic data used to identify and designate municipalities as EJ areas is stale. If I am sent to Beacon Hill to represent the 16th Suffolk District, I will file legislation that requires these policies and designations be reviewed yearly and updated accordingly. In addition, I will work to pass legislation that 1. significantly increases fines and penalties for companies like Wheelabrator and 2. requires that all new revenue generated by these fines be retained by the DEP to fund expansion of inspection and enforcement staff.

Sunday’s blaze injured a Saugus firefighter and threatened the lives and safety of many others. It could have been much worse, and if ignored by the state, the likelihood that it will be increases. Let’s work together to send Wheelabrator a simple yet strong message: “ENOUGH”. 

Jessica Ann Giannino is a Councillor-at-Large for the City of Revere, as well as a candidate for State Representative.

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