Pennsylvania environmental regulators are investigating health complaints after the Invenergy natural gas power plant in Jessup Pa. began spewing plumes of smoke this week. The company says the emissions are temporary and part of a planned commissioning process.
Photo Courtesy: Jerry Crinella
Jessup frustrated with DEP response to yellow smoke, health complaints at gas power plant
As the Harrisburg reporter for StateImpact Pennsylvania, Marie Cusick covers energy and environmental issues for public radio stations statewide. She’s also part of NPR’s energy and environment team, which coordinates coverage between the network and select member station reporters around the country. Her work frequently airs on NPR shows including Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition. Since 2012, Marie has closely followed the political, social, environmental, and economic effects of Pennsylvania’s natural gas boom. Her work has been recognized at the regional and national levels– honors include a Sigma Delta Chi Award from the Society of Professional Journalists and a national Edward R. Murrow Award from the Radio Television Digital News Association. Previously, Marie was a multimedia reporter for WMHT in Albany, New York and covered technology for the station’s statewide public affairs TV show, New York NOW. In 2018, she became StateImpact’s first FAA-licensed drone pilot.
The Invenergy natural gas power plant in Jessup Pa. began spewing plumes of smoke in early March, prompting health complaints from nearby residents. The company says the emissions are temporary and part of a planned commissioning process. Jerry Crinella
Residents of Jessup say they are not satisfied with the response from the state Department of Environmental Protection, after a new natural gas power plant spewed yellow-colored smoke and prompted health complaints earlier this month.
The Invenergy plant being built in Lackawanna County started emitting noxious smoke on March 3. According to Jessup Borough Council President Jerry Crinella, DEP sent two people to investigate on March 6, but after they walked around, they said they couldn’t see or smell anything.
“I’m disappointed concerned citizens are not getting the information they’re asking for. We want to know what the readings were from the air monitors,” Crinella said. “The DEP is supposed to be there to protect the public, not the company.”
DEP spokeswoman Colleen Connolly declined to discuss the incident, and instead sent emailed statements.
“Department believes plume is excess NOX [nitrogen oxides] as Invenergy is beginning to start up its turbines. No issues were reported to us,” Connolly wrote. “Department has asked Invenergy to provide a report on this. We are still waiting for the report.”
Connolly added there have been no complaints from residents since the original incident, and said she could not discuss specifics until the department receives the report from Invenergy.
The Chicago-based company did not immediately respond to a request for information Monday afternoon, but in an emailed statement earlier this month, spokesman Dan Ewan said the plant was undergoing a short-lived commissioning phase, which resulted in temporary noise and a visible vapor plume. He said there were no chemicals used during the process.
Jessup resident Rella Scassellati lives a half-mile from the plant and was among those who complained to the DEP about a burning in her nose, throat, sinuses, and chest.
“I think every person who made a complaint deserved a response,” Scassellati said. “Nobody followed up with me.”
At 1,480 megawatts, the plant will be one of the largest gas-fired power plants in the United States. As StateImpact Pennsylvania and the Center for Public Integrity reported last year, the project has stirred controversy and upended local politics in the small town. It’s expected to be fully operational next year.
Borough council member Peter Larioni was voted into office last fall as a plant opponent. He said people are still reaching out to him asking about what was being emitted.
“The [DEP] guy said, ‘I didn’t smell anything.’” Larioni said. “How can he say that? Does he have a monitor up his nose?”
According to Larioni, the borough is considering paying for its own air monitors near the plant.