Phyllis Carr, 58, and her family share a house and a trailer in a valley along Hope Hollow Road in Fayette County near Lake Lynn, PA. On the hill above her home, three natural gas compressors operated by Williams Pipeline noisily work away. But it’s not the noise that has turned Phyllis’s life into a nightmare; it’s the fumes. Since 2005, when the first compressor was installed, the family has suffered headaches, sore throats, and sinus congestion. In 2010, the severity and frequency of symptoms intensified as two more compressors and a dehydrator were placed in service. ”A strong chlorine-like smell comes in waves, usually in the early evening,” Phyllis said. “A good whiff will put blisters up your nose.” Last week, grandson PJ, 11, was allowed to play outside for one hour. He was sent home from school the next day because he developed a skin rash. Other grandchildren, Rhonda,15, and Daniel, 10, developed skin rashes and blisters after walking to the school bus. In October, her daughter Jeannie, 37, was treated at the emergency room for rashes and blisters on her neck and arms, the exposed skin. Jeannie covered her skin when outdoors after the ER visit, but in a second incident, she developed blisters in her nose. ”The doctors had never seen anything like it,” Jeannie said. In November, she was treated at Jefferson Hospital for weakness and respiratory distress. At that time, a blood test revealed traces of toxicity and a nurse advised her to leave the family home rather than risk further exposure. Today, Jeannie reports, “Even after all the creams and all the steroids, my face still has lesions. It won’t go away. I have scars on my throat.”
The family contacted the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. Per Ms. Carr, in October they were visited by an inspector from PADEP. However, two days before the inspector arrived to investigate, 2 of the 3 compressors were idled. When the family followed up with the inspector, he assured them that no problems were detected. But the Carr family did not accept that conclusion. They began communicating with Calvin Tillman, mayor of Dish, Texas. Dish experienced problems with benzene in the air from natural gas operations. Mr. Tillman responded to their plight by quietly providing them with an air sample collection canister which they hung from a tree in the backyard for 24 hours, then returned to Mr. Tillman. The results of that air analysis revealed measurable levels of several toxic compounds including acetone, benzene, chloromethane, ethanol, hexane, methylene chloride, and toluene.