Protesters Blockade Planned Pipeline Site Near Nuclear Plant Outside NYC
In Peekskill, New York, just about an hour north of New York City, residents have launched a blockade in efforts to stop the construction of a gas pipeline slated to run only hundreds of feet from the aging Indian Point nuclear power plant.
The proposed project has sparked concerns from residents and nuclear experts that a pipeline break could cause a catastrophic nuclear disaster that would threaten the entirety of New York City. The pipeline is being built by Spectra Energy and is officially known as the Algonquin Incremental Market Project or AIM pipeline.
Peekskill residents and activists escalated the campaign to stop this pipeline's construction by installing a fully sustainable shipping container at the entrance of Spectra's work yard—complete with two activists living inside. Democracy Now! was there as the blockade was launched.
Here's the transcript of the interview:
Juan Gonzalez: In Peekskill, New York, just about an hour north of New York City, residents have launched a blockade in efforts to stop construction of Spectra Energy's Algonquin Incremental Market Project, known as the AIM pipeline, which would carry high-pressure methane gas from Massachusetts through Rhode Island, Connecticut and down to the communities along the Hudson River. In Peekskill, the pipeline is slated to run only hundreds of feet from the aging Indian Point nuclear power plant, sparking concerns from residents and nuclear experts that a pipeline break could cause a catastrophic nuclear disaster that would threaten the entirety of New York City.
Well, only hours ago, Peekskill residents and activists escalated the campaign to stop the pipeline's construction by installing a fully sustainable shipping container at the entrance of Spectra's work yard—complete with two activists living inside. Democracy Now! was there as the blockade was launched.
Lee Stewart: My name is Lee Stewart. We are now on the site, the construction site, of Spectra AIM's pipeline. The workers will be arriving very soon to find our home here now, where they're supposed to be doing work.
Jane Kendall: We have a pouch we can fill with water and put it up here so the sun will heat it, so we can have hot showers.
I'm Jane Kendall. Spectra Energy has put their construction pipe for the pipeline through people's yards, through our woodlands, through our wetlands. Now we're putting our home in their yard, in their path. You'll see there's heavy equipment there. They're beginning to plow through to get the path to lay the pipeline. And over here is a yard where they're keeping heavy equipment.
Laura Gottesdiener: And the shipping container, where is that in between all this?
Jane Kendall: It's right smack in the middle. It's stopping everything. And the really great thing is, everybody in this area driving back and forth on the way to work is going to see it.
Laura Gottesdiener: What does the message on the side of this container say?
Lee Stewart: "Our lives on the line. Stop Spectra."
Activist: Here we go, guys. Here we go. There's workers here.
Jane Kendall: Ok, go.
Activist: I'm going to give you this closing.
Jane Kendall: Here we go. Ciao.
Lee Stewart: Love.
Amy Goodman: That was Lee Stewart speaking this morning before he and Jane Kendall locked themselves into the shipping container blockading Spectra Energy's work yard. The project has already faced massive resistance at other points along the route, including in Rhode Island and Massachusetts, where activists from a group known as The FANG Collective have staged a series of tree-sits and protests. Spectra is currently suing three FANG members for $30,000 over a protest in which activists locked themselves to structures at a construction site, delaying work for hours. The three are heading to court this Thursday. In Peekskill, this morning's blockade is the latest in a series of escalating actions. On Saturday, 21 people were arrested after forming a human chain to block trucks from moving in or out of the construction site. Democracy Now!'s Laura Gottesdiener was there, speaking to residents, protesters risking arrest and a nuclear safety expert.
Protesters: Get up! Get down! Leave fossil fuels in the ground! Get up! Get down!
Courtney Williams: My name is Courtney Williams. I am a resident of Peekskill and I am working to stop the Algonquin pipeline expansion. I first heard about the pipeline over two years ago, when a local organization called SAPE, which is Stop the Algonquin Pipeline Expansion, had an info session at the local library. And they had been working to stop fracking and they realized that even if New York banned hydrofracking, we would still be feeling a lot of the health and safety impacts of it if we had massive fracked gas pipelines going through our communities. So that's when we first learned about the project. And my husband actually said, "I think these people are crazy or we need to move," because they're building this pipeline right next to the nuclear power plant, right next to the elementary school and 400 feet from our front door. Our home will be incinerated if this pipeline ruptures near to our house. And the school district, the great school district that we were buying to live in, now our daughter will be going to kindergarten 400 feet from the pipeline, where, you know, she and 300 other kids would be harmed if the pipeline ruptured there.
Laura Gottesdiener: How old is your daughter Irene?
Courtney Williams: My daughter is six. And my—and so she's a kindergartner there now. And my son is going to be four on Monday, actually. And he would be starting there, if we still live here.
Laura Gottesdiener: If this section becomes operational, will you stay and send your kids to this school, where there's—400 feet away, there's the possibility that there could be a pipeline explosion?
Courtney Williams: We really don't feel safe here anymore.
Protesters: We're gonna roll! We're gonna roll! We're gonna roll! We're gonna roll! We're gonna roll right over Spectra!
Jean Bergman: My name is Jean Bergman. And we're here in Peekskill to protest the Spectra pipeline. Right now we have over 20 people willing to risk arrest to try to stop this pipeline from being built. We're standing across the entrance to the pipeline work area and we're going to stay here and prevent vehicles from coming in or out as long as we can.
Protesters: We shall not be moved.
Benjamin Shepard: I'm Benjamin Shepard from Brooklyn, New York City. And we're here to ask: If all of our elected representatives are on record as being against this pipeline, if the mayor of Peekskill is on record as being against the pipeline, if the people of Peekskill are on record as being against this pipeline, who's calling the shots? The people or the corporations? And if the corporations won't get out of the way, the people have to do it, are going to have to get in their way. And that's why we're here, to get on the—stop the machinery.
Paul Blanch: My name is Paul Blanch. I'm a registered professional engineer. I've studied nuclear safety for 50 years. And I know there's a probability of an event occurring that would literally destroy the area here and impact 20 million people and cause property and infrastructure damage exceeding $8 trillion. There is no nuclear power plant that we are aware of, first of all, that's located in such a high densely populated area. There's no nuclear power plant with a gas line running 400 feet from the control room. There is no protection in the control room, should an event occur. If an event occurs, an explosion or the release of gas, even unexploded, could cause disabling the people in the control room and result in meltdown of both reactors. An explosion would engulf the Indian Point facility. And the containments wouldn't be affected, but it's very likely that we would have a release exceeding those of Chernobyl and Fukushima, because there's more radioactive material stored here than at those facilities.
Laura Gottesdiener: So you're saying if there were an explosion at Indian Point power plant, nuclear power plant, everybody in New York City would be displaced?
Paul Blanch: Well, I'm not saying everybody. It depends on which way the wind is blowing. And if it blows to New York City, there's been studies that, you know, the evacuation area could extend beyond 50 miles. And New York City downtown is only 35 miles away. And predominant winds are down the Hudson River and it could cause the relocation of people permanently.
Protesters: Get up! Get down! Leave fossil fuels in the ground! Get up! Get down!
Amy Goodman: That was nuclear power safety expert Paul Blanch speaking Saturday in Peekskill, New York, about the Indian Point nuclear power plant. The facility has long been plagued with aging infrastructure and safety concerns. On Tuesday, the environmental group Friends of the Earth filed an emergency petition with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission demanding one of Indian Point's reactors be kept offline and that another be shut down due to the disintegration of key bolts holding the reactor cooling system together.
Well, for more, we're joined here in New York by Nancy Vann, president of Safe Energy Rights Group and a member of Resist AIM. She's a resident of Peekskill, New York. She just left the newly launched blockade of the AIM pipeline.
Nancy, welcome to Democracy Now!
Nancy Vann: Thank you.
Amy Goodman: So, the significance of this pipeline being next to this nuclear power plant and then Friends of the Earth filing this complaint?
Nancy Vann: The pipeline is dangerous enough on its own. We anticipate that a blast radius from a rupture would be between 800 and a thousand feet. And it runs within about 105 feet of the switchyard that supplies all the power to Indian Point to keep the cores cooled. If the core power goes out, there's a backup generator and the pipeline will run 115 feet from the fuel that would fuel those backup generators. So, any rupture of this pipeline would completely obliterate really critical safety structures at Indian Point.
Juan Gonzalez: Why did public officials allow this pipeline to be built in the first place? Governor Cuomo, for instance, is known as an opponent of the Indian Point nuclear power plant and wants to close it down. Why haven't they stepped forward on this issue?
Nancy Vann: Well, Governor Cuomo actually did step forward on it. He had issued a letter and sent it to FERC, which is the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, a little—about a month ago, saying that he wanted this pipeline construction halted until an independent risk assessment could be done. FERC, that we like to call FERCbecause of its implications—we always talk about them FERCing us—they are an industry that—they are captured by the industry. They are really a rogue agency. All of their funding comes from the fossil fuel industry. If there were no new projects, there would be no agency.
Amy Goodman: Last year, The FANG Collective—standing for Fighting Against Natural Gas—recorded a series of interviews with a whistleblower who worked as a contract safety inspector on Spectra's AIM pipeline. He was asked to describe the safety conditions at the site. His voice has been distorted.
Safety Inspector: We had an excavator that flipped over, a very heavy—I'd have to guess, but I'd be remiss to say it was easily greater than 50,000 pounds—a trackhoe, flip over on a jobsite, the arrest of it—tumbling down a field. It was arrested by falling onto the flatbed it was putting pipe on. You had the situation at Cromwell, where a crane forgets to unhook its headache ball from the front of the crane and starts to boom crane out. Well, when you do that, cable is supposed to get longer, but it didn't, so it catastrophically broke the cable. The ball hit 10-inch plate, that could have been under pressure. What if that would have been live pressurized plate, that by now had been struck by headache ball, by crane that weighs upteen tons? That could have led to a humongous environmental safety issue as well as multiple deaths. So, the bottom line is, these are all situations where I was personally confronted, from crane to the trackhoe, to the head injuries, to the minor heat exhaustion, to the so on and so forth.
Amy Goodman: The whistleblower went on to say inspectors told him about other safety violations.
Safety Inspector: Inspectors come up to me in the field and say to me, "There was a pipe buried underground that was not inspected properly." And the reason it was not excavated and inspected was that it cost too much money. The right thing for the inspector to do is to make them dig it back up. That's the right thing to do. With the pressure you receive from Spectra, you will never do that.
Amy Goodman: So, Nancy Vann, explain what this safety inspector is saying, in the last 30 seconds we have.
Nancy Vann: He is talking about the fact that new pipelines are actually failing at a much higher rate than older pipelines. They're being put in too fast. The wells are not being inspected. They're using faulty steel, using often Chinese steel that is not up to the standards that it should be. And
Amy Goodman: Our latest news is police are currently trying to cut through the shipping container that was set up today, not successful so far. What about this blockade launch that was just begun this morning? You've got 10 seconds.
Nancy Vann: Our lives really are on the line. In court, we are pleading the necessity defense, saying that we have to do this to keep a greater harm from being perpetrated on the people of New York. There are 20 million people that could be affected if something goes wrong at this pipeline next to Indian Point.
Amy Goodman: Nancy Vann, I want to thank you for being with us, president of Safe Energy Rights Group, member of Resist AIM, lives in Peekskill, New York. And that does it for the show. Special thanks to Laura Gottesdiener and Juan Carlos Dávila for that report.
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The patient in the case report (let's call him Tom) was 54 and in good health. For two days in May, he felt unwell and was too weak to get out of bed. When his family finally brought him to the hospital, doctors found that he had a fever and signs of a severe infection, or sepsis. He tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 infection. In addition to symptoms of COVID-19, he was also too weak to move his legs.
When a neurologist examined him, Tom was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre Syndrome, an autoimmune disease that causes abnormal sensation and weakness due to delays in sending signals through the nerves. Usually reversible, in severe cases it can cause prolonged paralysis involving breathing muscles, require ventilator support and sometimes leave permanent neurological deficits. Early recognition by expert neurologists is key to proper treatment.
We are neurologists specializing in intensive care and leading studies related to neurological complications from COVID-19. Given the occurrence of Guillain-Barre Syndrome in prior pandemics with other corona viruses like SARS and MERS, we are investigating a possible link between Guillain-Barre Syndrome and COVID-19 and tracking published reports to see if there is any link between Guillain-Barre Syndrome and COVID-19.
Some patients may not seek timely medical care for neurological symptoms like prolonged headache, vision loss and new muscle weakness due to fear of getting exposed to virus in the emergency setting. People need to know that medical facilities have taken full precautions to protect patients. Seeking timely medical evaluation for neurological symptoms can help treat many of these diseases.
What Is Guillain-Barre Syndrome?
Guillain-Barre syndrome occurs when the body's own immune system attacks and injures the nerves outside of the spinal cord or brain – the peripheral nervous system. Most commonly, the injury involves the protective sheath, or myelin, that wraps nerves and is essential to nerve function.
Without the myelin sheath, signals that go through a nerve are slowed or lost, which causes the nerve to malfunction.
To diagnose Guillain-Barre Syndrome, neurologists perform a detailed neurological exam. Due to the nerve injury, patients often may have loss of reflexes on examination. Doctors often need to perform a lumbar puncture, otherwise known as spinal tap, to sample spinal fluid and look for signs of inflammation and abnormal antibodies.
Studies have shown that giving patients an infusion of antibodies derived from donated blood or plasma exchange – a process that cleans patients' blood of harmful antibodies - can speed up recovery. A very small subset of patients may need these therapies long-term.
The majority of Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients improve within a few weeks and eventually can make a full recovery. However, some patients with Guillain-Barre Syndrome have lingering symptoms including weakness and abnormal sensations in arms and/or legs; rarely patients may be bedridden or disabled long-term.
Guillain-Barre Syndrome and Pandemics
As the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps across the globe, many neurologic specialists have been on the lookout for potentially serious nervous system complications such as Guillain-Barre Syndrome.
Though Guillain-Barre Syndrome is rare, it is well known to emerge following bacterial infections, such as Campylobacter jejuni, a common cause of food poisoning, and a multitude of viral infections including the flu virus, Zika virus and other coronaviruses.
Studies showed an increase in Guillain-Barre Syndrome cases following the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic, suggesting a possible connection. The presumed cause for this link is that the body's own immune response to fight the infection turns on itself and attacks the peripheral nerves. This is called an "autoimmune" condition. When a pandemic affects as many people as our current COVID-19 crisis, even a rare complication can become a significant public health problem. That is especially true for one that causes neurological dysfunction where the recovery takes a long time and may be incomplete.
Though there is clear clinical suspicion that COVID-19 can lead to Guillain-Barre Syndrome, many important questions remain. What are the chances that someone gets Guillain-Barre Syndrome during or following a COVID-19 infection? Does Guillain-Barre Syndrome happen more often in those who have been infected with COVID-19 compared to other types of infections, such as the flu?
The only way to get answers is through a prospective study where doctors perform systematic surveillance and collect data on a large group of patients. There are ongoing large research consortia hard at work to figure out answers to these questions.
Understanding the Association Between COVID-19 and Guillain-Barre Syndrome
While large research studies are underway, overall it appears that Guillain-Barre Syndrome is a rare but serious phenomenon possibly linked to COVID-19. Given that more than 10.7 million cases have been reported for COVID-19, there have been 10 reported cases of COVID-19 patients with Guillain-Barre Syndrome so far – only two reported cases in the U.S., five in Italy, two cases in Iran and one from Wuhan, China.
It is certainly possible that there are other cases that have not been reported. The Global Consortium Study of Neurological Dysfunctions in COVID-19 is actively underway to find out how often neurological problems like Guillain-Barre Syndrome is seen in hospitalized COVID-19 patients. Also, just because Guillain-Barre Syndrome occurs in a patient diagnosed with COVID-19, that does not imply that it was caused by the virus; this still may be a coincident occurrence. More research is needed to understand how the two events are related.
Due to the pandemic and infection-containment considerations, diagnostic tests, such as a nerve conduction study that used to be routine for patients with suspected Guillain-Barre Syndrome, are more difficult to do. In both U.S. cases, the initial diagnosis and treatment were all based on clinical examination by a neurological experts rather than any tests. Both patients survived but with significant residual weakness at the time these case reports came out, but that is not uncommon for Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients. The road to recovery may sometimes be long, but many patients can make a full recovery with time.
Though the reported cases of Guillain-Barre Syndrome so far all have severe symptoms, this is not uncommon in a pandemic situation where the less sick patients may stay home and not present for medical care for fear of being exposed to the virus. This, plus the limited COVID-19 testing capability across the U.S., may skew our current detection of Guillain-Barre Syndrome cases toward the sicker patients who have to go to a hospital. In general, the majority of Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients do recover, given enough time. We do not yet know whether this is true for COVID-19-related cases at this stage of the pandemic. We and colleagues around the world are working around the clock to find answers to these critical questions.
Sherry H-Y. Chou is an Associate Professor of Critical Care Medicine, Neurology, and Neurosurgery, University of Pittsburgh.
Aarti Sarwal is an Associate Professor, Neurology, Wake Forest University.
Neha S. Dangayach is an Assistant Professor of Neurology and Neurosurgery, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.
Disclosure statement: Sherry H-Y. Chou receives funding from The University of Pittsburgh Clinical Translational Science Institute (CTSI), the National Institute of Health, and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine Dean's Faculty Advancement Award. Sherry H-Y. Chou is a member of Board of Directors for the Neurocritical Care Society. Neha S. Dangayach receives funding from the Bee Foundation, the Friedman Brain Institute, the Neurocritical Care Society, InCHIP-UConn Center for mHealth and Social Media Seed Grant. She is faculty for emcrit.org and for AiSinai. Aarti Sarwal does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
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