Letter to the Editor

Mixed Blessing

To the Editor,

For a moment it seemed magical –  set designers, Hollywood stars, and a manufactured winter wonderland right outside our windows and doors. Disney Plus had chosen Charlestown to produce its tween stream, ‘Godmothered’ and it felt flattering – our neighborhood (for the third time in less than a decade) would be seen on the big screen by viewers around the globe. However, day by day too many of us that live on High and Pleasant streets, as well as Monument Square, became disillusioned due to the tremendous disruption the production was wreaking on our lives. In the three days that followed, my neighbors and I were forced to live with:

•diesel generators, vehicles and equipment (e.g. cranes), operating an arm’s distance from our homes and causing significant deterioration in our air quality;

•lights setting the night sky aglow and the noise from the crew and its vehicles/equipment in full operation until nearly day break (4 a.m.);

•refusals to provide direct answers to questions regarding the composition of their artificial snow products that are being blown into the air; the same air that we are breathing, and when settled, a substance that is being tracked into our homes.

We understand that the entertainment industry provides an important revenue stream for the City and state, which we support.  We are used to the inconvenience of not being able to park near our homes for days on end as film crews commandeer multiple blocks of neighborhood streets to park their vehicles and equipment. But we need our elected representatives’ help to ensure that what we’ve experienced over the last few days is no longer allowed nor repeated.

Charlestown, we need to ensure that we are better protected when the city/state allows the entertainment industry to set up their filming operations outside our front doors. As residents of Boston, we have no opportunity to voice opposition when the industry decides our neighborhood street offers a desired shot. The first time we are made aware of these operations is when flyers are posted on our doors and no-parking signs are erected on our streets often only several days in advance of the film crew’s arrival.  

There are simple solutions that could help remedy what we experienced. For example:

 •Enforce the state’s no-idling laws. Detail police officers who are on-site need to protect neighborhood residents by enforcing the state’s no-idling laws. When the film crew’s large concentration of diesel vehicles, equipment and generators operate on our narrow/congested neighborhood streets, our air quality and our health are significantly impacted. Diesel exhaust is toxic and infants and the elderly are particularly susceptible. Those with respiratory conditions such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD) can experience acute impacts and we need not remind ourselves that diesel exhaust is a known human carcinogen. We have laws intended to protect the public’s health from these harmful toxic exposures.  We have police officers on site with the film crew while they operate. Why aren’t these laws being enforced?

•Sponsor new policy proposals that require the entertainment industry to replace their use of diesel-powered electric vehicles/equipment with an electric fleet, especially if operations move them into our residential neighborhoods. There are models that Boston could follow and that your office could propose, such as policies/processes underway in Vancouver, British Columbia to reduce harmful diesel emissions by electrifying the operations of the film industry. Taxes/fees could be levied to an entertainment firm’s operating permit to help offset the city’s cost for the installation of additional electrical connections. Not only would such policies improve the film industry’s public health impacts in this region, it would also reduce the city’s contribution of greenhouse gas emissions.

•Restrict the hours of the day that the entertainment industry is permitted to film/operate in residential neighborhoods, unless all impacted residents are provided financial resources for relocation. On Jan. 30/31, the Disney+ film crew shot a scene outside our homes into the early morning, roughly 4 a.m. We are not aware of any non-emergency activity that is permitted to use bright lights and noisy equipment along with a large collection of individuals talking outside residences until such late hours. Many of us on High and Pleasant streets did not sleep that night. How could the city/state approve these operations? The next day was going to be the same story and only through complaining did representatives of the film crew offer to put people up for a night at a nearby hotel. Why was this at their film crew’s discretion? Why did the city’s permit allow operations during such hours?

-If chemical substances used during film operations have the potential to impact the air, water or soil of residents located near such operation, provisions must be in place to require the full disclosure of the hazard profile of such substances.  Our streets were turned to an artificial snowy winter to set Disney+’s scene. Flyers posted stated that the artificial snow was “not chemicals” and was “safe for humans and pets.” Yet when we saw the crew mixing the agent and blowing this mixture into the air we breathe, we asked for more information. What chemicals are comprised in this artificial snow product? Blanket assurances of safety are simply not sufficient for those who want to have a deeper understanding of the chemicals that are being put into the air we breathe and that are being tracked into our homes. We have a right to know. Yet when asked, the crew simply evaded our questions.  We had to call the Fire Department to request access to the safety data sheet (SDS) for the product, which firms are required to keep on hand wherever workers use a given chemical product. We were still unsatisfied with the answer provided to the Fire Department official, given that the crew provided an SDS for the product that was not even used; the name we saw on the product, “Giles” did not match the SDS provided to the Fire Department personnel. So what are they hiding? If there’s nothing to hide, why aren’t provisions being made to fully disclose the nature of the materials/substances used? Despite being “cleaned-up” this material is still all over our sidewalks and street.

•Keep parking restrictions to a minimum and require that the industry pay for parking for residents in an impacted area. As you know, our neighborhoods are encountering the worst scenario possible regarding residential street parking due to the wave of development that has been permitted. We understand that as residents, we don’t own the street parking near our homes. However, permitting film crews to restrict multiple blocks of available street parking (dozens of parking spaces) without providing impacted residents with other options is exacerbating a problem that is already in crisis mode.

Johanna Hynes

Charlestown Resident and Business Owner

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