The Human Story

This page is dedicated to compiling the reports of people dealing with water contamination, air pollution, loss of property value, and sickness due to fracking near their homes.   The Academy Award nominated movie Gasland documented the experiences of people with hydraulic fracturing principally in the Western US.  Reports are coming in now that the same kind of incidents are occurring in the Marcellus shale region i.e. New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and parts of Maryland, Virginia, and Ohio.  Now that the rich Utica shale in Ohio is in play, we expect to have more stories from that state.

WEST VIRGINIA
The Woodell story, Taylor Co – a spill of industrial fluid occurred above the Woodell spring.  But the family wasn’t notified and no information is forthcoming from EQT or the WVDEP.
Dennis and Tamera Hagy, Jackson Co. The family in Romance, WV has filed suit claiming that the neurologic disease they suffer is the result of ingesting contaminated water from their well.
Marcellus Drilling by Antero on Indian Run in Harrison County at 1:58 AM at Night – You Tube
Video of drilling by Antero on Indian Run, Harrison Co.

Danny and Sharon Kinney, Doddridge County – Their well water is contaminated with arsenic and lead.  3/8/2012

PENNSYLVANIA

Bradford County. On the Water and More blog, the impacts on families in Bradford County are recounted.  Among those , the well water at the home of Carl Stiles and his wife Judy was contaminated with heavy metals. A toxicologist found barium, arsenic, and VOCs (volatile organic chemicals) in Carl’s blood. Strontium, uranium and radium were found in their water. The radiation level in the home is 13.7 or 7 times that set by EPA as a standard not to be exceeded. Carl died of intestinal cancer on January 26, 2012.  He blamed the cancer on the contaminated water.  Judy developed stomach pain and skin rashes and continues to be afflicted with pain after moving from the home.  Both Judy and Carl were told by their doctor to expect to die of leukemia within 2 years.  Here is their story in a letter written by Carl and Judy.

Kim McEvoy, Connoquenessing Township, Butler Co, PA.  Her water is contaminated with arsenic and methyl chloride.  8-10-11
Crystal Stroud testimony, Bradford Co, PA public meeting
April 28, 2011
“Our family is just collateral damage.”
The Haney family suffered serious illness from arsenic poisoning.  Stacey Haney, of Washington County, PA., Registered Nurse and Mom of two teen age children shared her family’s experiences living nearby to a Marcellus Gas drilling site and a seven acre impoundment pool. The family had leased their land to Range, after being promised there would be no problems. But problems soon became apparent. Stacey’s dog and the neighbor’s dog both died. Their goat, with two young also died. An autopsy reveled arsenic in the neighbor’s dog. The assumption was the animals were sickened by arsenic contaminated waste water from Range’s drilling activities. Stacey’s horse became sick. Stacey and her children also became sick. Her son was twice hospitalized with stomach (liver and kidney) pain, nausea, fatigue and mouth ulcers, forcing him to remain out of school for a year and a half. Stacey and her daughter experienced similar symptoms. Both were tested for arsenic poisoning. Stacey suffered high levels and her daughter lower levels of arsenic poisoning. The water smelled bad Stacey said, and later, after the family started using bottled water, their symptoms receded.  After being contacted by Stacey the PADEP found Ethel glycol and arsenic in water samples. She said DEP was not helpful.

The Hallowich Family, Hickory, Pa.   Story with photos.

The Hallowich Family, a National Geographic story on how water contamination and industrialization of a rural area has ruined one family’s dream.
Joyce Mitchell, Hickory, Pa. Joyce has garnered financial gain from leasing to Range Resources but endures the smell of fumes and has concerns about the safety of her drinking water.
Pennsylvania Farmers Terry Greenwood and Ron Gulla in Washington County Relate How Drilling Has Ruined Water and Caused Cattle Deaths

Jeremiah Gee, Tioga County.  Family’s well water is contaminated with thermogenic methane following well completion (fracking) operations by Shell.

OHIO

Jan. 17, 2012 Three years after drilling, feds say natural gas in Medina County well water is potentially explosive.

Medina County families fight against water well contamination

NEW YORK

Ignitable Tap Water, Candor, NY (You Tube)

TEXAS
Smith Family, water contamination,Dish, Texas
Calvin Tillman and other residents of Dish, Texas. Mayor Tillman decided to move from Dish rather than live in a place that was making his sons sick.
Rebekah Sheffield, Dish

Amber Smith and Family, Dish, Texas Their water became contaminated with sediment, arsenic, lead, butanone, acetone, carbon disulfide, strontium, as well as other heavy metals, all above safe drinking water standards.
Parker County,Texas

COLORADO

Susan Wallace-Babb, Parachute, Colo.  ”On a summer evening in June 2005, Susan Wallace-Babb went out into a neighbor’s field near her ranch in Western Colorado to close an irrigation ditch. She parked down the rutted double-track, stepped out of her truck into the low-slung sun, took a deep breath and collapsed, unconscious.”  Propublica story Science Lags as Health Problems Emerge Near Gas Fields.

The Greens and the Strudleys, Video by NY Times The Greens decided to move from Garfield County and experiencing illness and losing chickens and goats.
Laura Amos, Garfield Co, Colorado.  Laura developed an adrenal tumor of a rare type associated with exposure to a fracking fluid chemical.  Her water was contaminated but she was told that it was safe.

MONTANA

See the web-site by David Katz on the activities on the Beartooth Mountain front:

http://preservethebeartoothfront.com

WYOMING

Louis Meeks, Pavillion, WyoChris Velasquez, Blanco, New Mexico

CANADA
Rosebud, Alberta Jessica Ernst claims that her water was contaminated with toxic compounds by nearby hydrofracking.

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

http://thetimes-tribune.com/news/cloud-looms-over-a-life-spent-hiding-from-chemicals-1.1707213

CLOUD LOOMS OVER A LIFE SPENT HIDING FROM CHEMICALS – News – The Times-Tribune

From an Article by Brendan Gibbons, June 22, 2014
BRENDAN GIBBONS  Dougherty looks out her front door in Eaton Twp., Wyoming County. Ms. Dougherty, 52, suffers from extreme chemical sensitivity and fears what could happen if Southwestern Energy Co. drills a well near her home. A state panel of judges denied her petition to have the permit revoked.

EATON TWP. — For decades, Dorene Dougherty’s chemical sensitivity made her a prisoner in her own home.

Now she and her doctor fear not even her prison is safe.

Ms. Dougherty, 52, suffers from toxic encephalopathy, reactive airway disease and chemically mediated inflammation of her internal organs. Exposure to pesticides as a young woman gave her these conditions, which make it unbearable for her to be around harsh chemicals. It has only worsened as she has aged.

In November, the state gave Southwestern Energy Production Co. a permit to drill a natural gas well a half-mile from Ms. Dougherty’s house.

Ms. Dougherty and her doctor of 15 years wrote to the state Environmental Hearing Board, asking the judges to revoke the well permit.

“It is my medical opinion that if this permitting is allowed for even one well … it would create a serious, life-threatening risk to Ms. Dougherty,” her doctor wrote. “I seriously doubt she can survive this fracking process so close to her house.”

The judges on the board denied her petition to revoke the permit and canceled her hearing.

The two provided “no factual or legal support for the proposition that she ultimately must prove; namely, that the Department (of Environmental Protection) acted unlawfully or unreasonably by issuing a permit to Southwestern,” their order said.

Anecdotal ills —  More than 15 million people across the U.S. live within a mile of an unconventional oil or gas well, according to an October Wall Street Journal analysis.

So far, public health experts say, no one has mounted close-up, real-time monitoring efforts to measure the air pollution associated with well pad construction, drilling, flaring and compressor stations.

Many of these people don’t report ill effects. Yet, in shale gas basins from Texas to Pennsylvania, anecdotes emerge of headaches, nosebleeds, respiratory problems and skin rashes.

David Brown, Sc.D., is a toxicologist with the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project, The project receives calls and visits from people around the state who live near gas operations.

“I believed what the public was saying — that they were ill,” Dr. Brown said.

Most government and private monitoring of unconventional oil and gas sites have continually found levels far below legal and health-based limits.

“At sites where it appears that health effects are produced by (unconventional natural gas development), toxic emissions are often not being measured or not detected at levels deemed dangerous,” Dr. Brown wrote in a March paper in Reviews of Environmental Health.

In 2010, DEP parked a mobile air lab or placed sensors at two compressor stations, a completed well and a well being fracked, all in Susquehanna County.

The department found significant concentrations of methane and low levels of benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylene, methylbenzenes and napthalene, all attributable to Marcellus Shale development. DEP then compared its measurements to reference concentrations set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the California Environmental Protection Agency and the American Industrial Hygiene Association.

The levels “do not indicate a potential for major air-related health issues associated with the Marcellus Shale drilling activities,” the report said.

In Pennsylvania, most of the state’s monitoring focuses on six chemicals covered by national air quality standards. The EPA’s National Ambient Air Quality Standards, based on the Clean Air Act, set limits for six critical pollutants — carbon monoxide, lead, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, particle pollution and sulfur dioxide. These standards regulate air quality on a regional level.

Those regulations don’t cover chemicals DEP has found in miniscule amounts near gas sites. For volatile organic carbons, such as benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene, the EPA and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest exposure standards. In high enough concentrations, these chemicals can be toxic or deadly. In other states, short-term monitoring efforts at oil and gas sites have returned levels above federal exposure guidelines for two pollutants.

In 2008, the Colorado Department of Public Health reported higher than acceptable levels of benzene, a known carcinogen, at oil and gas sites in Garfield County.

In West Virginia, a 2013 study commissioned by that state’s Department of Environmental Protection found particle levels above the national air quality standards at 625 feet from the center of well pads because of dust and heavy equipment. At that distance, researchers also measured benzene at higher than EPA or CDC suggested minimums.

 ‘Microenvironments’ — Some public health experts suggest emissions gather in local “microenvironments,” caused by steep Appalachian ridges and mountains and weather patterns that trap air in one place.

Bad air quality in these microenvironments could affect vulnerable people who aren’t as sensitive as Ms. Dougherty, said Marilyn Howarth, M.D., community outreach director with University of Pennsylvania’s Center of Excellence in Environmental Toxicology.

“It’s the regular child with asthma or the regular adults with heart disease,” she said. “These are also the people who might be affected by these microenvironments.”

Doctors have a good understanding of what these emissions can do in high concentrations, Dr. Howarth said. The volatile organic carbons can irritate the mucous membranes and cause or worsen asthma. Diesel emissions from trucks and equipment are loaded with fine particles and carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, she said. Nobody will know for sure without a real-time, long-term air sensor at the site, monitoring the air a next-door neighbor would breathe, she said.

“Just because people are making the connection doesn’t necessarily mean the connection is true,” she said.

Most DEP air monitors are located in urban areas. In early 2013, the department moved a volatile organic carbon sampler to Susquehanna County, with plans to later move it to Wyoming County.

It also installed an ozone and nitrous oxide monitoring station in Towanda. In the past year, the station recorded levels below EPA limits.

In 2012, the department began a year-long study in Washington County with several different types of sensors. Its results have not yet been released.

The Pennsylvania DEP published industry-reported air emissions inventories for 2011 and 2012. These inventories report emissions of the six regulated pollutants and other volatile organic carbons in tons per year, meaning they can’t be compared to the EPA or CDC short-term exposure limits.

 ‘Like the flu’ — Ms. Dougherty doesn’t get many visitors at her home, a small ranch surrounded by crop fields and, beyond that, forested ridges that overlook her little valley in a loop of the Susquehanna River west of Tunkhannock.

She has lived there since childhood. Her father was a World War II veteran who worked at Wyoming Sand and Stone in Falls; her mother worked in a dress factory. They brought her to live there when she was 9.

A swale ditch runs through her backyard, lined with stone and rimmed by weeds. Her sickness started with that ditch.

She remembers the first time she felt the symptoms. She was around 19. An adjacent farm had been treating the swale ditch with common herbicides.

One day, Ms. Dougherty, her mother and father all became ill. “I felt like I had the flu,” she said. “It just kind of felt like my head wasn’t right.” The illness lifted for everyone else, but not for her.

She developed balance problems, weakness and difficulty moving. Sometimes, she had a hard time breathing and found her throat raw and irritated. She suffered periods of confusion and disorientation, even temporary blindness.

It took her a long time to find what triggered her illness. For a while, she attended beauty school in Scranton. Once, she remembers losing her coordination and tumbling down a flight of stairs, her fall cushioned by her bag of books and mannequin heads.

She learned to avoid all artificial fragrances, dyes, surfactants and petroleum products. The only plastic visible at her home is an old Swedish telephone, the gases imbedded in the plastic long dissipated, known as “outgassed.”

Caretakers, paid for by the state, shop for her, bringing her only organic foods. She heats her home with electricity and cleans it with diluted vinegar and baking soda. She cooks with metal pots and pans and wooden utensils.

On the rare occasions someone does come by, her visitor must abide by a strict list of rules meant to protect Ms. Dougherty from getting ill: No smoking or pumping gas before coming. No scented soap, laundry detergent or dryer sheets. No perfume, aftershave or even fragrant deodorant.

“You quickly learn that it’s a ‘Save your own butt’ kind of thing,” she said.

 

A doctor’s opinion — Fresh out of medical school in 1968, Grace Ziem, M.D., Dr.P.H., got on a plane to South Vietnam as a medical missionary. With no laboratory or electricity, she learned to treat her patients based on physical exams and interviews.

She returned and did a few stints in hospitals before getting her master’s degree at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, then her doctorate in public health at Harvard.

She devoted her work to understanding and treating chemical and environmental injuries, including asbestos, pesticides and Gulf War chemical injuries. She consulted for the National Academy of Sciences, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, EPA, the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, the Department of Agriculture and several state agencies.

At her Maryland clinic, she treats patients from all over the country who come for help with illnesses, caused by the often poorly understood substances that surround us.

“I see the consequences of corporate failure, by definition,” she said.

A patient’s first visit often lasts all day, she said. She learns everything about their lives, honing in on the substances that trigger various physiological responses.

Why do pesticides, fragrances or other chemicals cause such severe reactions in some people, but not in others?

“What explains the fact that not everybody who smokes gets lung cancer?” Dr. Ziem asks. “Not everybody who was exposed to the bubonic plague becomes ill? People do vary genetically.”

Ms. Dougherty heard about Dr. Ziem 15 years ago. “She is one of the very sickest patients I have,” Dr. Ziem said. “She’s just extremely fragile.”

It’s hard to draw blood or do tests on Ms. Dougherty without causing a reaction, Dr. Ziem said. “She can’t use regular plastic tubing for oxygen because it’s got phthalates in it,” she said.

Eventually, with Dr. Ziem’s help, Ms. Dougherty settled into a routine. She stays shuttered inside, except when a neighboring farm applies pesticides, when she has a caretaker drive her to a park.

Her routine was shaken last September, when she received a letter from Southwestern about plans for a well near her home.

‘Right to live’ — Another letter in September informed her that the company had submitted an well permit application for the Dziuba Benjamin 2H well. Ms. Dougherty had heard about the gas industry for the first time a few years before.

“There’s this new thing, they call it ‘fracking,’” she remembers her caretaker saying. With not much knowledge other than a scary sounding name and the vague awareness of a cocktail of toxic chemicals injected into the ground, Ms. Dougherty submitted a public comment opposing the permit.

In return, Southwestern sent her a polite letter offering a free water test, even though the gas well was planned for 3,000 feet away, 500 feet farther than their usual free water test radius. The company also offered complimentary drinking water during drilling.

Southwestern representatives did not respond to requests for comment. Ms. Dougherty was not at all reassured. Neither was Dr. Ziem. Both think the well pad construction alone will be too much for her, with its dust and diesel fumes from heavy equipment.

In November, the DEP approved the permit. Ms. Dougherty got a lawyer and filed a request with the Environmental Hearing Board to have the permit revoked. Dr. Ziem sent a letter outlining the danger to her patient.

The EHB judges were not swayed. “The letter contains multiple allegations regarding the dangers of fracking but no explanation of the basis for her allegations,” the board’s opinion stated.

In January, the board denied Ms. Dougherty’s petition and canceled the hearing she had scheduled. Her attorney, who had been representing her pro bono, dropped her.

“In order to continue with an appeal, several experts would need to be retained, including experts on your health issues, the drilling process, air pollution, temperature inversion and several other experts to support your claims,” he wrote, suggesting that she monitor her health as the drilling goes on.

Now, with no ability to prove whether the well will harm her, Ms. Dougherty has only to wait and see if her fears come true.

“I know it’s an industry. I understand that there are landowners,” she said. “I think people who have their land, they have the right to do what they want with it.

“I feel I have a right to live.”

{ 43 comments… read them below or add one }

Eric Belcastro August 26, 2011 at 1:51 pm

A few additions.

Beth Voyles – Amwell Township, Washington County PA
http://canon-mcmillan.patch.com/blog_posts/the-pennsylvania-dep-another-red-herring-2

June Chapel – Hopewell Township, Washington County PA
http://www.marcellus-shale.us/June-Chappel.htm

Pam Judy – Carmichaels, Greene County.
http://www.marcellus-shale.us/Pam-Judy.htm

Phyllis Car – Fayette County, PA (on your own page)
http://www.frackcheckwv.net/2011/01/17/a-good-whiff-will-put-blisters-up-your-nose/

University of Pittsburgh’s CHEC documentary project
http://www.youtube.com/user/checNGdoc

Reply

jan milburn January 14, 2012 at 6:01 pm
Molly Bushart March 3, 2012 at 10:48 pm

Nice post. I will be continuously checking this site and I am inspired! Extremely useful info especially the last part

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Informed Citizen March 13, 2012 at 12:51 am

Here’s a human story for you. The industry mouthpieces say that they can’t hire West Virginians because they can’t pass a drug screening. In less than a months time, a drug-addicted gas worker from Oklahoma used his vehicle as a weapon to murder a veteran police officer and a drug-addicted gas worker from Texas caused a major accident on the interstate, sending three people to the hospital.

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Matheus August 14, 2012 at 4:37 am

I live in a state where gas drilling is totaly out of control. Individuals negotiating contracts for drilling on their lands might want to do some reading about the experiences of those who live in New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona and Utah. Don’t let anyone tell you this method of drilling is not responsible for the release of pollutants into the air. I have been awakened on many a summer’s night to the smell of illegal venting from a nearby gas drilling pad, and who is responsible for monitoring this? In addition, drilling companies have rightfully earned the reputation of failing to uphold their promises to repair damages done to property in the process of setting up wells. In the southwest U.S., the large influx of gas and oil workers also introduced the scourge of methamphetamine. Gas drilling is ugly. The state of Colorado is currently holding public hearings regarding stricter control of gas drilling for a reason. The state of New Mexico unfortunately is a lost cause.

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Sally Cox July 6, 2012 at 10:04 pm

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Bryan Ashley  July 29, 2012 at 11:29 pm

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Rebecca September 19, 2012 at 2:09 am

Hey my name is Rebecca, and I’m a student, and this blog really gave me an understanding of how fracking affects families. I’m now concerned! Thanks very much!

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Dee Ann Lohr December 19, 2012 at 11:57 pm

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Jammie Greenfield January 9, 2013 at 2:36 pm

Thanks a lot for providing us average citizens with an extraordinarily interesting source of personal experiences. These people are at the mercy of forces beyond the control of state agencies. And definitely, I think this information should be known widely.

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Lew Angeles January 28, 2013 at 3:03 pm

Excellent posts here, I just discovered, but I was wondering if you could write a litte more and keep these stories up to date?

I’d be very grateful if you could elaborate a little bit more as well. The details are important. Cheers!

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Ferris Huber February 23, 2013 at 5:45 pm

I have read these stories about the experiences of the rural residents of WV. Many would consider them horror stories which would make a shocking movie, if the full truth of their reality could be conveyed onto the screen, with the trucks, rattles, noises, and odors going 24/7.

Why does the Governor close his eyes to these severe and extreme conditions in which the local landowners are at the mercy of the mineral owners, large gas companies, drilling and fracking contractors, pipeline companies, compressor station owners, and seismic survey teams? Remember when your land was yours alone, for a private home free of invasion!

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Nora Peters May 14, 2013 at 10:04 am

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Reply

S. T. June 27, 2013 at 8:36 pm

This was helpful for me and it really gave me allot to think about.

While I am generally busy with my work, I think it is important to

try and keep up with all that is going on without much regulation.

Roads, dust, potholes, streams, brine, frack wastewater, radioactivity,

noise, lights, trucks, trucks, trucks ……

……. where does it end ………..

Thanks for this!

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Stepanie July 9, 2013 at 7:48 pm

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C. T. Ruhrer August 18, 2013 at 6:43 am

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Kelly August 18, 2013 at 10:02 am

You can see photos and videos online of the air and water pollution in Lochgelly WV caused by the dumping of toxic and radioactive fracking wastewater from other areas into sediment pits. These pits are located only a mile or so from public schools and residential neighborhoods. The pollution has been going on for years and the WV DEP OOG seems to be in denial about the entire situation, and putting a lot of energy into protecting the natural gas industry instead of the people who are suffering. See for yourself:

http://www.DirtyWaterWV.com

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Cora Geery November 15, 2013 at 7:35 am

I’m impressed, I need to say. This information is so very important, it must be understood in Houston, Columbus, and Washington.

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C.A.Ridge January 13, 2014 at 2:33 am

Please make this information available to your post.

Here in Britain our government has opened the door to Fracking companies.

TOTAL is a French company and has been given a contract to start fracking here in Britain. However, ……

Please note that Fracking is banned in France.

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D. G. Showalter February 19, 2014 at 10:07 am

I like it when folks get together and share ideas.

Great site, continue the good work!

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Bev Ketchum February 21, 2014 at 10:23 am

Way cool! Some extremely valid points!

I appreciate your publishing these reports;

and also the rest of the site is very good.

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David Katz March 6, 2014 at 3:46 pm

Thank you for an excellent site and the diverse coverage articles.

My site on drilling activity along the Beartooth Front in Montana:

http://preservethebeartoothfront.com

Best wishes from Montana, David Katz

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Ashly Fredrickson April 8, 2014 at 9:50 am

Personally I am a victim to fracking pollution here in Alberta in Canada. My house dwells dead center between two gas sites on my neighbours properties. The first went up three years ago across the river and they directional drilled under the river to our property because we wouldnt allow them to set up on our property. Then last summer the other went up across the road from our house only 200 meters away and they also directional drilled under our property.

They stopped by with information on where they were drilling and what not. Well somewhere within those last few years they hit our well and we didnt understand why our water was coming out of the tap in air bubbles hissing and spraying until we took a lighter to it and it blew blue flame.

Somehow they leaked gas into our well and god only knows what else. My horses lost their mane hair and my Pomeranian lost all her hair and developed a heart condition that she relies on medication for and coughs to the point she cant breathe and I cant help her. Myself and my mother started lost hair and it would just break off and our skin was rashy and oily and break out.

This summer I often laid in bed with my window open and could hear when they would flare at the site as it was right out my window. Id be woken up by the smell and fumes that id suffer the summer heat n close my window. I bathed in this water for years and drank it and cooked with it.

I have a large pool and used the water to fill it and it didn’t take long to develop an oily black ring around the water line, this is where I spent most of my time. I always had a full time job where as my mother was always home and I often wondered why she and my dogs were always so tired never leaving the house. now I’ve moved out with my fiancee to the town down the river and my hair is growing back and my skin feels better but my stomach is often in pain and I generally feel ill and wonder if its an effect of.being poisoned for so long.

Also being down stream where I know they drilled under the river at my property I wonder if this poison is leaking into this river that this town also gets all of its water from so am I still being poisoned? Recently a film crew showed up at my work to interview me and my mother and we took them and showed them our flamable tap water and since some alberta government officials have been in contact to go after husky oil and gas for many different areas in alberta. We are all banning together against them.

And I’m not against all this oil and gas stuff, my fiancee is a truck driver who hauls the liquid nitrogen to these fracking sites, I’m simply against that this company has poisoned my family and ruined our beautiful river front property, now uninhabitable because there is no fixing our well. They would drill right back into the same water source thats contaminated. They never tested our well prior to fracking even though they are within the distance. Here’s to hoping we get to the bottom of this….

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Duane Nichols June 23, 2014 at 6:29 pm

http://thetimes-tribune.com/news/cloud-looms-over-a-life-spent-hiding-from-chemicals-1.1707213

CLOUD LOOMS OVER A LIFE SPENT HIDING FROM CHEMICALS – News – The Times-Tribune

From an Article by Brendan Gibbons, June 22, 2014
BRENDAN GIBBONS  Dougherty looks out her front door in Eaton Twp., Wyoming County. Ms. Dougherty, 52, suffers from extreme chemical sensitivity and fears what could happen if Southwestern Energy Co. drills a well near her home. A state panel of judges denied her petition to have the permit revoked.

EATON TWP. — For decades, Dorene Dougherty’s chemical sensitivity made her a prisoner in her own home.

Now she and her doctor fear not even her prison is safe.

Ms. Dougherty, 52, suffers from toxic encephalopathy, reactive airway disease and chemically mediated inflammation of her internal organs. Exposure to pesticides as a young woman gave her these conditions, which make it unbearable for her to be around harsh chemicals. It has only worsened as she has aged.

In November, the state gave Southwestern Energy Production Co. a permit to drill a natural gas well a half-mile from Ms. Dougherty’s house.

Ms. Dougherty and her doctor of 15 years wrote to the state Environmental Hearing Board, asking the judges to revoke the well permit.

“It is my medical opinion that if this permitting is allowed for even one well … it would create a serious, life-threatening risk to Ms. Dougherty,” her doctor wrote. “I seriously doubt she can survive this fracking process so close to her house.”

The judges on the board denied her petition to revoke the permit and canceled her hearing.

The two provided “no factual or legal support for the proposition that she ultimately must prove; namely, that the Department (of Environmental Protection) acted unlawfully or unreasonably by issuing a permit to Southwestern,” their order said.

Anecdotal ills —  More than 15 million people across the U.S. live within a mile of an unconventional oil or gas well, according to an October Wall Street Journal analysis.

So far, public health experts say, no one has mounted close-up, real-time monitoring efforts to measure the air pollution associated with well pad construction, drilling, flaring and compressor stations.

Many of these people don’t report ill effects. Yet, in shale gas basins from Texas to Pennsylvania, anecdotes emerge of headaches, nosebleeds, respiratory problems and skin rashes.

David Brown, Sc.D., is a toxicologist with the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project, The project receives calls and visits from people around the state who live near gas operations.

“I believed what the public was saying — that they were ill,” Dr. Brown said.

Most government and private monitoring of unconventional oil and gas sites have continually found levels far below legal and health-based limits.

“At sites where it appears that health effects are produced by (unconventional natural gas development), toxic emissions are often not being measured or not detected at levels deemed dangerous,” Dr. Brown wrote in a March paper in Reviews of Environmental Health.

In 2010, DEP parked a mobile air lab or placed sensors at two compressor stations, a completed well and a well being fracked, all in Susquehanna County.

The department found significant concentrations of methane and low levels of benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylene, methylbenzenes and napthalene, all attributable to Marcellus Shale development. DEP then compared its measurements to reference concentrations set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the California Environmental Protection Agency and the American Industrial Hygiene Association.

The levels “do not indicate a potential for major air-related health issues associated with the Marcellus Shale drilling activities,” the report said.

In Pennsylvania, most of the state’s monitoring focuses on six chemicals covered by national air quality standards. The EPA’s National Ambient Air Quality Standards, based on the Clean Air Act, set limits for six critical pollutants — carbon monoxide, lead, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, particle pollution and sulfur dioxide. These standards regulate air quality on a regional level.

Those regulations don’t cover chemicals DEP has found in miniscule amounts near gas sites. For volatile organic carbons, such as benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene, the EPA and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest exposure standards. In high enough concentrations, these chemicals can be toxic or deadly. In other states, short-term monitoring efforts at oil and gas sites have returned levels above federal exposure guidelines for two pollutants.

In 2008, the Colorado Department of Public Health reported higher than acceptable levels of benzene, a known carcinogen, at oil and gas sites in Garfield County.

In West Virginia, a 2013 study commissioned by that state’s Department of Environmental Protection found particle levels above the national air quality standards at 625 feet from the center of well pads because of dust and heavy equipment. At that distance, researchers also measured benzene at higher than EPA or CDC suggested minimums.

 ‘Microenvironments’ — Some public health experts suggest emissions gather in local “microenvironments,” caused by steep Appalachian ridges and mountains and weather patterns that trap air in one place.

Bad air quality in these microenvironments could affect vulnerable people who aren’t as sensitive as Ms. Dougherty, said Marilyn Howarth, M.D., community outreach director with University of Pennsylvania’s Center of Excellence in Environmental Toxicology.

“It’s the regular child with asthma or the regular adults with heart disease,” she said. “These are also the people who might be affected by these microenvironments.”

Doctors have a good understanding of what these emissions can do in high concentrations, Dr. Howarth said. The volatile organic carbons can irritate the mucous membranes and cause or worsen asthma. Diesel emissions from trucks and equipment are loaded with fine particles and carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, she said. Nobody will know for sure without a real-time, long-term air sensor at the site, monitoring the air a next-door neighbor would breathe, she said.

“Just because people are making the connection doesn’t necessarily mean the connection is true,” she said.

Most DEP air monitors are located in urban areas. In early 2013, the department moved a volatile organic carbon sampler to Susquehanna County, with plans to later move it to Wyoming County.

It also installed an ozone and nitrous oxide monitoring station in Towanda. In the past year, the station recorded levels below EPA limits.

In 2012, the department began a year-long study in Washington County with several different types of sensors. Its results have not yet been released.

The Pennsylvania DEP published industry-reported air emissions inventories for 2011 and 2012. These inventories report emissions of the six regulated pollutants and other volatile organic carbons in tons per year, meaning they can’t be compared to the EPA or CDC short-term exposure limits.

 ‘Like the flu’ — Ms. Dougherty doesn’t get many visitors at her home, a small ranch surrounded by crop fields and, beyond that, forested ridges that overlook her little valley in a loop of the Susquehanna River west of Tunkhannock.

She has lived there since childhood. Her father was a World War II veteran who worked at Wyoming Sand and Stone in Falls; her mother worked in a dress factory. They brought her to live there when she was 9.

A swale ditch runs through her backyard, lined with stone and rimmed by weeds. Her sickness started with that ditch.

She remembers the first time she felt the symptoms. She was around 19. An adjacent farm had been treating the swale ditch with common herbicides.

One day, Ms. Dougherty, her mother and father all became ill. “I felt like I had the flu,” she said. “It just kind of felt like my head wasn’t right.” The illness lifted for everyone else, but not for her.

She developed balance problems, weakness and difficulty moving. Sometimes, she had a hard time breathing and found her throat raw and irritated. She suffered periods of confusion and disorientation, even temporary blindness.

It took her a long time to find what triggered her illness. For a while, she attended beauty school in Scranton. Once, she remembers losing her coordination and tumbling down a flight of stairs, her fall cushioned by her bag of books and mannequin heads.

She learned to avoid all artificial fragrances, dyes, surfactants and petroleum products. The only plastic visible at her home is an old Swedish telephone, the gases imbedded in the plastic long dissipated, known as “outgassed.”

Caretakers, paid for by the state, shop for her, bringing her only organic foods. She heats her home with electricity and cleans it with diluted vinegar and baking soda. She cooks with metal pots and pans and wooden utensils.

On the rare occasions someone does come by, her visitor must abide by a strict list of rules meant to protect Ms. Dougherty from getting ill: No smoking or pumping gas before coming. No scented soap, laundry detergent or dryer sheets. No perfume, aftershave or even fragrant deodorant.

“You quickly learn that it’s a ‘Save your own butt’ kind of thing,” she said.

 

A doctor’s opinion — Fresh out of medical school in 1968, Grace Ziem, M.D., Dr.P.H., got on a plane to South Vietnam as a medical missionary. With no laboratory or electricity, she learned to treat her patients based on physical exams and interviews.

She returned and did a few stints in hospitals before getting her master’s degree at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, then her doctorate in public health at Harvard.

She devoted her work to understanding and treating chemical and environmental injuries, including asbestos, pesticides and Gulf War chemical injuries. She consulted for the National Academy of Sciences, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, EPA, the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, the Department of Agriculture and several state agencies.

At her Maryland clinic, she treats patients from all over the country who come for help with illnesses, caused by the often poorly understood substances that surround us.

“I see the consequences of corporate failure, by definition,” she said.

A patient’s first visit often lasts all day, she said. She learns everything about their lives, honing in on the substances that trigger various physiological responses.

Why do pesticides, fragrances or other chemicals cause such severe reactions in some people, but not in others?

“What explains the fact that not everybody who smokes gets lung cancer?” Dr. Ziem asks. “Not everybody who was exposed to the bubonic plague becomes ill? People do vary genetically.”

Ms. Dougherty heard about Dr. Ziem 15 years ago. “She is one of the very sickest patients I have,” Dr. Ziem said. “She’s just extremely fragile.”

It’s hard to draw blood or do tests on Ms. Dougherty without causing a reaction, Dr. Ziem said. “She can’t use regular plastic tubing for oxygen because it’s got phthalates in it,” she said.

Eventually, with Dr. Ziem’s help, Ms. Dougherty settled into a routine. She stays shuttered inside, except when a neighboring farm applies pesticides, when she has a caretaker drive her to a park.

Her routine was shaken last September, when she received a letter from Southwestern about plans for a well near her home.

‘Right to live’ — Another letter in September informed her that the company had submitted an well permit application for the Dziuba Benjamin 2H well. Ms. Dougherty had heard about the gas industry for the first time a few years before.

“There’s this new thing, they call it ‘fracking,’” she remembers her caretaker saying. With not much knowledge other than a scary sounding name and the vague awareness of a cocktail of toxic chemicals injected into the ground, Ms. Dougherty submitted a public comment opposing the permit.

In return, Southwestern sent her a polite letter offering a free water test, even though the gas well was planned for 3,000 feet away, 500 feet farther than their usual free water test radius. The company also offered complimentary drinking water during drilling.

Southwestern representatives did not respond to requests for comment. Ms. Dougherty was not at all reassured. Neither was Dr. Ziem. Both think the well pad construction alone will be too much for her, with its dust and diesel fumes from heavy equipment.

In November, the DEP approved the permit. Ms. Dougherty got a lawyer and filed a request with the Environmental Hearing Board to have the permit revoked. Dr. Ziem sent a letter outlining the danger to her patient.

The EHB judges were not swayed. “The letter contains multiple allegations regarding the dangers of fracking but no explanation of the basis for her allegations,” the board’s opinion stated.

In January, the board denied Ms. Dougherty’s petition and canceled the hearing she had scheduled. Her attorney, who had been representing her pro bono, dropped her.

“In order to continue with an appeal, several experts would need to be retained, including experts on your health issues, the drilling process, air pollution, temperature inversion and several other experts to support your claims,” he wrote, suggesting that she monitor her health as the drilling goes on.

Now, with no ability to prove whether the well will harm her, Ms. Dougherty has only to wait and see if her fears come true.

“I know it’s an industry. I understand that there are landowners,” she said. “I think people who have their land, they have the right to do what they want with it.

“I feel I have a right to live.”

 

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