A bad valve at the WIN Waste Innovations plant caused a deafening noise that frightened hundreds in Saugus and Revere
By Mark E. Vogler
At about 8:20 p.m. Monday (Sept. 25), a loud noise emanating from the WIN Waste Innovations trash-to-energy plant disrupted the night for hundreds of frightened Saugus and Revere residents. The noise was so loud that the Saugus Police Department wound up fielding more than 400 calls on its emergency 911 and business lines during a period of about 30 minutes, according to Police Chief Michael Ricciardelli.
“Many of the people calling on the 9-1-1 were extremely scared … asking if they should evacuate the area,” Chief Ricciardelli told the Board of Health during an emergency public meeting held Tuesday night before a crowd of about 100 – many of them standing outside the overfilled Community Room.
“Some thought it was a plane crash,” Chief Ricciardelli said.
When Saugus firefighters arrived at the incinerator on Route 107 in East Saugus, there was nobody immediately available in the control room they could talk to, according to Fire Chief Michael C. Newbury. “On our day shift, we have a fantastic relationship with WIN,” Chief Newbury told the Board of Health.
But the fire chief cited “a lack of communication” on Monday night when firefighters responded to a noise complaint at the plant. The chief said it took five to 10 minutes before the Fire Department established contact with plant officials. Meanwhile, “there was misinformation about an explosion at the facility,” he added, noting that good communication could have prevented that kind of fear in the community
“Luckily, nobody got hurt,” Chief Newbury said.
WIN Waste blamed a malfunctioning valve for the violent venting of steam that produced about 20 minutes of horrific noise that annoyed and frightened hundreds of residents in Saugus and Revere. In an initial text message alert to the community, WIN explained that the plant had “experienced an upset condition that necessitated the ventilation of steam, without the opportunity to route it through the silencers…The result was steam that was both visible and audible.”
Declaring it an emergency
Saugus Town Manager Scott C. Crabtree requested the emergency Board of Health meeting after Saugus Public safety dispatchers were flooded with calls. “I am aware that this was unsettling to many residents and families throughout Saugus. The Town takes this matter seriously,” Crabtree said in a press release issued Tuesday morning. “Therefore, I have requested that the Saugus Board of Health, which has jurisdiction concerning this incident, to immediately convene an emergency public meeting to have representatives from WIN Waste Innovations explain what occurred, why it occurred, and what steps they will take to prevent it from happening again.”
At the end of the 90-minute hearing, Saugus Board of Health Chair William Heffernan vowed, “We will hold WIN accountable.”
“We will act sooner rather than later,” he said, noting that the board will be meeting with town counsel and the health director to determine what enforcement action should be taken against WIN, including actions the company should be required to take. “I know what authority we have, and I’m not afraid to use it,” Heffernan said. Heffernan said he believed the noise caused by a faulty valve at the plant “was the loudest we’ve ever seen in my lifetime.”
Heffernan said he liked some of the ideas proposed at the meeting, including the establishment of a communications loop between the town and WIN when serious events happen and a reverse 911 call so residents can be briefed as soon as possible when those events occur.
“In my opinion, this was a catastrophic failure,” Heffernan said. He called on the company to increase its preventative maintenance and suggested that monthly testing of the equipment be increased from monthly to twice-a-month. Some residents said the testing of the equipment should be conducted during the day and not at night.
In response to a resident’s concerns about the noise incident, Heffernan said he would request an evaluation by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Precinct 10 Town Meeting Member Peter Manoogian, a longtime critic of the plant, called on the company to “step up and pay for this incident that cost the taxpayers last night. Manoogian, whose Ballard Street home is not far from the plant, said the atmosphere in his neighborhood resembled “sort of a Precinct 10 night out.” “People were wondering if the plant was going to blow up,” he said, adding that some hoped it was.
WIN agrees to take action on recommendations
Saugus Board of Selectmen Chair Anthony Cogliano said he met with WIN officials on Wednesday to follow up on many of the recommendations made in response to the incident. He shared some email correspondence he had with Mary Urban, Senior Director of Communications & Community Engagement for WIN. “The relationship I’ve developed with WIN Waste has once again proven to be beneficial not only to the residents of Precinct 10, but the Town of Saugus as a whole,” Cogliano wrote Urban.
“As unfortunate as the events of Monday night were, it is equally important that we remedy those situations as soon as possible. What we’ve been able to agree to here is a major step in the right direction. Thank you and your team for meeting with me to address these concerns in a timely manner,” he said.
In her email to Cogliano, Urban said WIN intends to “immediately act on the following”:
- Direct phone line to the control room for the FD/PD only
- Support the reverse 911 call requested from the town
- Reimbursement for the Town’s costs for emergency services to respond to the event at our facility
- Increase the frequency of the BOH 3rd party Tech environmental group from monthly to biweekly reviews
- Fund the installation of one stand-alone ambient NOx monitoring station in the Town of Saugus per the DEP’s regulations
Peter DiCecco, WIN Waste Innovations Senior Vice President of Operations, expressed repeated apologies to the town and its residents. “Last night was the first time there’s been a malfunctioning of the silencer since it’s been installed,” DiCecco said.
“The audience doesn’t care that it worked 99 percent of the time,” he added. “I am extremely disappointed that we inconvenienced the community last night,” he said.
In the last three years, WIN has spent more than $75 million to upgrade the plant and replace parts. “We are constantly looking at and making improvements.”
Board of Health Member Joia Cicolini told DiCecco that the existing plant wouldn’t be permitted today under existing environmental laws.
Public health wasn’t adversely affected by the incident, according to DiCecco. “I can say confidently, the public wasn’t harmed,” DiCecco said.
But Saugus Board of Health Director John R. Fralick III disagreed with DiCecco’s claim. He cited numerous calls received by Saugus public safety dispatchers. “I consider panic to be a public health issue,” Fralick said.
“What I saw here tonight was induced by that situation,” he said.
Saugus Selectman Jeffrey Cicolini said he received calls from neighbors asking whether they should evacuate the area. “People were literally freaking out. It was a scary situation for a while,” Cicolini said.
Saugus Selectman Michael Serino testified that the incident frightened him. “I tell you; I was a nervous wreck. I didn’t know what to do,” he said.
“It’s not just a noise issue. The root of the problem is that it’s the oldest plant in the nation. It needs to be torn down and replaced,” Serino said.
Revere residents riled by the noise
State Rep. Jessica Ann Giannino (D-Revere) – whose 16th Suffolk District includes Precincts 3 and 10 in Saugus, told the Board of Health Tuesday night that she “was horrified to know that 3.2 miles away in my home, I could hear it.”
“I had families calling me…’my kids are scared.’ If 3.2 miles away I can hear it, it’s a problem. That’s why we’re here tonight – it’s a problem – to make sure this doesn’t happen again,” she said.
The legislator was one of several Revere residents who testified before the Board of Health about the loud noise. Giannino also appeared Wednesday to testify before the Legislature’s Joint Committee on the Environment and Natural Resources, regarding three bills introduced by her and state Rep. Jeff Turco (D-Winthrop).
One of the bills (House Bill 818) relates to the closure of the WIN Waste ash landfill in Saugus. House Bill 817 addresses the expansion of existing landfills, monofills or ash landfills located in or adjacent to areas of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC). House Bill 816 would allow communities within a half mile of a facility to adopt rules and regulations “to protect the public health from unnecessary or excessive noise; frequent and unwarranted smoke; and obnoxious odors.”
“After the horrific noise occurrence on Monday night, the hearing on H816 is extremely timely,” Saugus Board of Selectmen Vice Chair Debra Panetta said of the legislation she gave testimony on Wednesday.
“We need to protect our residents, and I believe this house bill will give our Board of Health more authority to do just that,” Panetta said.
Panetta also gave oral testimony on House Bills 817 and 818. She said she strongly supports House Bill 817 because “no expansion should be allowed of existing landfills, monofills, or ash landfills in or next to an ACEC.”
“This landfill should be capped once it reaches its 50-foot capacity,” Panetta said of House Bill 818. “The landfill was supposed to be closed in 1996, but it has received multiple extensions. Former Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner, Martin Suuberg, stated in a letter dated November 16, 2021, the ash is coming to the end of its legally allowed existence. The MassDEP came to Saugus and stated that this facility fails to meet the necessary site suitability criteria to allow expansion within an ACEC.”
“The passing of these three House bills are in the best interest of our Town and the surrounding communities,” Panetta said. “The health and well-being of our Saugus residents (and neighbors) has always been my top priority.”
Acting Revere mayor calls for plant shutdown
Acting Revere Mayor Patrick M. Keefe Jr. issued a statement condemning the noise incident at the WIN plant. “The events of last night are just the latest example of the disrespect and utter disregard for people of the leaders by WIN Waste Management,” Keefe said.
“The Win Waste Facility at 200 Salem Turnpike is unsafe, and its lack of emergency operational procedures is unacceptable. The Residents of Revere should never have to endure up to 30 minutes of continuous noise at levels loud enough to reverberate across four districts of our city – frightening family pets and causing harm to those already anxious, with no accountability from the company responsible,” Keefe said.
“The WIN Waste site is the country’s oldest incinerator and must be closed immediately. Plants just like this one have been shut down all over the country, and Massachusetts has forbidden anything like it to be built again. Win Waste gobbled up dozens of local waste companies, and the leadership continues to make billions through record profits while the people they are neighbors to live in fear of the next issue at their aging facility,” he said. “WIN Waste continues to prove that we cannot have confidence in its operations, and it must be held accountable for its continued disregard for our resident’s quality of life or safety. Today, I reaffirm my commitment to support House bills 816, 817, and 818 and have this facility shut down for the betterment of our community and our environment.
Concerns about air quality
In addition to the noise issue and its impact on residents in Saugus and Revere, several speakers at the public hearing expressed concerns about air quality being impacted by the steam. “I think we need to have monitors installed throughout our community – not just in Precinct 10 – and have that information available,” Saugus Selectman Jeffrey Cicolini said.
Jackie Mercurio called attention to PurpleAir monitors, which she said showed air quality readings at astronomical levels overlapping the time of the noise complaints. “Last night, they skyrocketed to almost a thousand,” Mercurio said.
“Over 100 is dangerous for a lot of our population,” she said. Mercurio suggested that the town acquire “a more robust monitoring system” so there would be no doubts about the impact of the plant on air quality.
Precinct 10 Town Meeting Member Peter Manoogian also urged more thorough study of the air quality around the plant. “What is coming out of that steam? What are they adding? I don’t know it’s harmless,” Manoogian told the Board of Health.
“I want some third-party evidence that steam coming out of the plant is not harmful,” he said.
Based on the PurpleAir monitor results, Selectman Panetta concluded, “It looks like the emissions [readings] went through the roof.”
Precinct 10 Town Meeting Member Peter Delios said he shares local officials’ concerns about the potential impact of the steam coming out of the WIN Waste plant. “It would be advisable if we see the air quality reports of that night,” he said.
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