Small-business owners worry that a proposed bill designed to further regulate the quality of drinking water will only hurt the local blasting and drilling industry.
The bill, H 4645, targets the blasting and drilling industry, which uses high-pressure gas to break rock for excavation projects like quarries, tunnels and roads. Supporters of the bill are concerned that the chemicals used to blast hard rock can contaminate the public water supply, and have called for extensive regulations on the drilling and blasting industry.
The bill was referred to the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture last month after sitting dormant since March, and small-business owners fear that it’s closer to being passed. The Legislature won't meet in formal session again until January.
Under the proposed bill, blasting companies would have to cover the cost of a water contamination tests if a resident in the “blast effect area” requests it, and would also require companies to post their construction schedule 60 days before blasting on site. Failure to post a schedule can result in a $15,000 penalty fine.
Rick Hergt, who owns Foxboro blasting company Green Mountain Enterprises, testified against the bill at a committee hearing Wednesday. He said, “I don’t know about anybody here, but I don’t know what I’m gonna be doing in 60 days. How can I post a blasting schedule?”
“To comply with the regulations set forth, it’s impossible,” Hergt said, “This bill was put in for public water quality and safety, and the only thing this bill does is it makes compliance just way too hard to do. It does not protect water quality.”
Hergt said that because blasting is already regulated by the Department of Public Safety, it doesn’t need the jurisdiction of other departments, too.
“They’re doing a fine job of regulating it. They branch out to the local fire departments and they monitor it,” he said. “We don’t need the Department of Environmental Protection involved in the drilling and blasting business. It does no good.”
Nitrate, the main chemical used in blasts, is common in public water in low amounts, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Bacteria in soil convert naturally occurring nitrogen to nitrate, which plants absorb to grow. Nitrate can leach through the soil and into groundwater, and can end up in the public drinking supply. In low doses, it doesn’t affect adults and children, as their bodies are developed enough to metabolize it. However, it can be lethal to infants under 6 months old, and prevents their undeveloped circulation system from carrying oxygen around the body.
Supporters of the bill argue that blasts contribute excess nitrate to the ecosystem and pose a dangerous threat to public health. Hergt dismissed these claims, and said because nitrate is consumed by the blasts, there’s no residual chemical left after an explosion.
According to Hergt, the blasts don’t affect public drinking supply at all.
“I asked my insurance company how many claims they’ve had for water quality or problems with wells and they said in 10 years, billions of dollars have been spent in the drilling or blasting industry and there have been no claims,” he said.
Hergt was the only person to testify at the hearing, and supporters of the bill were not present. Committee chairman Rep. Paul Schmid said the committee would have to hear more perspectives, particularly from the supporting side, before considering the legislation.
“On this bill, since it is so technical,” Schmid said, “I would say that we’d have to have a much greater depth of understanding about it before we were to advance it."