MANCHESTER — To Manchester resident and cancer research activist Susan Wadia-Ells, the Salem Harbor Power Station has long been an eyesore and health concern for neighboring residents.
Now, with growing talk that the plant's shutdown is pegged for some five years away, she says she'll be glad to see that day arrive, but is not taking anything for granted.
Dominion Energy, the company that owns the power plant, announced last month that it would close the Salem Harbor Station within five years. And last week, the state's outgoing secretary of environmental affairs, Ian Bowles, says he, too, is urging its closure.
"But I don't think we in Manchester or Cape Ann should begin to get excited by this statement," said Wadia-Ells, the founder and director of Know Breast Cancer, a National breast cancer prevention project. "They are not definite (plans), this takes the heat off them."
Wadia-Ells, however, firmly believes that closing the plant is in the best interest for all the communities that surround the 65-acre waterfront site in Salem, visible from some harbor views in Manchester.
Wadia-Ells, who prominently works with breast cancer prevention and awareness, said there is no doubt in her mind that the toxic emissions from the plant contribute to the higher than average rates of breast cancer.
In 2008, Silent Spring Institute reported Manchester had an incidence rate of breast cancer 51 percent to 100 percent higher than the state average.
Wadia-Ells said there has been an increase level of breast cancer in the area, as well as Marblehead, due to what she believes are airborne pollutants from the power plant. People who walk outside and on the beaches, she said, are breathing air carrying chemicals from the facility.
"Breast cancer is caused by a cocktail effect," said Wadia-Ells.
She noted that, while not everyone breathing air tainted by the plant's emissions will get breast cancer, the disease is caused by a combination of atmospheric effects and personal choices.
"It's the perfect storm," she said.
Susan Harrington, a resident of Manchester for the last 64 years, agrees with Wadia-Ells.
When it comes to closing the power plant she said, "the sooner, the better."
Harrington said she believes "there are relevant facts (that place the power plant) being a contributing factor (to cancer cases)."
And Sheila Hill, another resident of Manchester who previously worked with a citizens group in Salem to take action against the power plant, said any plan to "delist" or shut down the Salem plant "totally appropriate, totally wonderful and long overdue."
In terms of what the closing of the plant would mean in regards to Manchester, Wadia-Ells said a shutdown would mean only positives.
One would be using a clean energy source rather than the harmful toxins that the plant is now using. The Salem Harbor Power Station runs by coal and, although it is in compliance with strict Massachusetts environmental regulations, the emissions are still toxic, she said.
According to the Salem Harbor Power Station web site, the regulations which it follows are among the most stringent regulations in the country.
But Wadia-Ells said that, after listening to many experts — such as lawyers from the Conservation Law Foundation, who have done studies to see if the Salem Harbor Station is a vital piece to the electrical needs of Salem and the region — believes it is not.
"There are extensive studies that show we don't need it," said Wadia-Ells. "I would say why keep polluting Manchester if we don't need it."
The power plant was "offline" for some six months after an accident in the boiler room took the lives of three workers in November 2007. In that time, according to Wadia-Ells "we never had any electrical issues (in Salem) — there were none."
Wadia-Ells acknowledged that the loss of tax revenue Salem receives for having the plant will be a loss for that city, "but wouldn't effect Manchester."
To that end, Wadia-Ells added, "clean energy is a good thing for the economy."
Hill also questioned some of the negative aspects of closure being voiced in Salem.
"I think, as opposed to many who say this will be a terrible disaster for tax," Hill said, removal of the plant would be good for the future of Salem as well as Manchester.
She also pointed out that, if the plant were ever razed, it could easily make "everything more beautiful," alluding to the ominous vision the power plant casts.
Wadia-Ells added that having anything in view would be better than having to "watch that black smoke."
"That's not happy to look at," he said.
With plans in the future for the Salem Harbor Station to close n now on the front burner, Wadia-Ells said, Manchester and other communities should stay on top of the fight.
"We all need to stay very vigilant," she said. "And encourage the governor to take steps to shut them down."
Kendra Noyes can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3447, or at gt_reportergloucestertimes.com.