UPDATE: Wheelabrator Saugus will temporarily stop operating beginning Wednesday afternoon to add an enhanced silencer to dampen the sound of steam being released from the plant. The company said it expects to get the work done in about a day, and will continue collecting trash during that time.
SAUGUS — For nine days Cyn Donnelly and her elderly parents have been listening to a loud noise they describe as like a jet engine coming from Wheelabrator Saugus.
“When you’re in the house, it sounds like a plane is going by overhead, but the noise never goes away,” said Donnelly, who has lived on Guild Road in Saugus since 2004. “It has been a nice week. We want to go out and sit on our back porch.”
But they haven’t because they can’t stand the annoyance of the noise, she said. They haven’t even been able to keep the windows open.
The Donnellys aren’t alone.
Loretta LaCentra, who lives at the corner of John Avenue and Mills Avenue in Revere, said the sound has completely disrupted her life.
“It’s creating a huge amount of stress,” said LaCentra. “Noise is used as a form of torture and I totally get that now. Not only am I totally stressed out, but I’m sleep deprived because I can’t sleep with this noise. It’s awful.”
“We are working to try to get the company to address the issue,” said Edmund Coletta, a spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Protection.
The noise is caused by the release of steam, said Coletta. The facility burns trash and creates energy that goes back to the grid.
“My understanding is that the turbine was pulled out recently to do maintenance,” said Coletta. “They’re still operating the burners, so it’s still causing the heat, or steam, to come out of the facility.”
There is a silencer on the site to try to block the noise, but MassDEP wants Wheelabrator to look at bringing in additional sound mitigation equipment or to make operational changes, said Coletta.
Wheelabrator released a statement Tuesday evening, attributed to Director of Communications and Community Engagement Michelle Nadeau, saying the steam being vented is safe and that work is being done to further dampen the sound.
“Although the steam is being vented through a silencer to reduce sound to the required standard, the venting is still noticeable in some neighborhoods located in close proximity to our facility,” she said. “An enhanced silencer is being shipped to the facility and it will be installed over the weekend by crews working around the clock. In the meantime, our crews are working nonstop to optimize the performance of the existing silencer. We apologize to our neighbors who are understandably feeling frustration at the noise levels, which our entire team is working to mitigate.”
A representative from Saugus’ Inspectional Services Department referred the matter to the Health Department. Lisa DeDomenico, administrative assistant for the Board of Health, declined to comment and referred the matter to Town Manager Scott Crabtree.
Crabtree did not return two calls, an email or a text message seeking comment.
This isn’t the first time residents have complained of loud noise stemming from the facility.
In May 2015, a raccoon tripped an electrical circuit and caused an audible release of steam to relieve pressure when a steam-driven turbine was taken offline. Residents jumped out of bed, speculating that a plane had gone down somewhere in town.
Using a decibel meter app on her phone, LaCentra measured the noise to range in from 60 decibels to more than 75 decibels.
“I just think it’s important that the health and wellbeing of people who live in this neighborhood is considered,” said LaCentra.