SWPA-EHP: a model for fracking states

Well pad in Washington County, Pennsylvania

Well pad in Washington County, Pennsylvania

SWPA-EHP is the acronym for Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project.

Yes, Pennsylvania again. The same state featured in the Blackout in the Gaspatch report.

Why is Pennsylvania the focus of so much research?

I can think of several reasons why researchers would want to investigate Pennsylvania’s gasfields. With almost 80,000 gas wells, in an area with a higher population density than Colorado’s gasfields, there are simply more people impacted. And they are surrounded by more people, more money, more colleges, universities, foundations, and organizations that have concerns about the impacts of oil and gas drilling on public health and the environment.

PA:  pop 12,773,801 covers 46,055 sq miles  — almost 80,000 active wells
CO:  pop 5,187,582 covers 104,185 sq miles — almost 52,000 active wells

Add to all of that the no-small-fact that neighbor state New York currently has a fracking ban – not to be confused with a drilling ban. Conventional drilling is still allowed in NY state, but no fracking. If you don’t know the difference, here’s a picture.

fracking vs drilling

So anyway, 79,000+ wells make an enormous footprint no matter where they land. If New Yorkers are the least bit interested in holding onto their fracking ban they need to provide evidence to their legislators about the evils that fracking hath wrought on Pennsylvania. Many researchers find they have a personal stake in their focus on fracking’s impacts on public health and the environment. And, as illustrated in the Blackout study, the researchers are no longer content to simply expose the hazards of fracking, they propose solutions.

Whilst the politicians, the oil & gas industry, and the citizens duke it out in Colorado, there is actual science and research happening in Pennsylvania that can benefit us now and into the future.

Which brings me back to the SWPA-EHP — the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project. This is one of those solutions that seems to be working out.

Rather than try to explain the EHP I’ll point to two articles —

Air Pollution Spikes In Homes Near Fracking Wells

Levels of particulate matter spike at night inside homes near gas wells in Southwest Pennsylvania, the director of an environmental health monitoring project said Wednesday.

The Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project (SWPA-EHP) has been conducting a “pretty aggressive” indoor air monitoring project since 2011 in the midst of Pennsylvania’s gas drilling boom, particularly near unconventional wells that employed hydraulic fracturing, project director Reina Ripple said in a webinar hosted by the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The project has documented sudden increases in particulate matter within homes, she said.

“These are really significant spikes in particulate matter, and a lot of the time they do happen at night,” Ripple said.

The spikes may last three to four hours, and they cannot be explained by typical household activities like cooking, Ripple said.

The spikes occur at night, she believes, because of stable atmospheric conditions that hold particulate matter low to the ground instead of dispersing it.

“The air masses at night tend to be pretty stable, so you’ve got a lot of people who are living not even downwind from these sites necessarily, but downslope.”

SWPA-EHP employs a nurse practitioner who conducts exams and offers consultations at people’s homes and offices. In 2012-13, they determined 27 health complaints were likely attributable to gas drilling activities, including dermal, respiratory and neurological symptoms and eye irritation.

“The acute impacts do seem to be the concern right now, and you can imagine if these people are getting spikes there are going to be acute impacts from that. What the long term effects are going to be, we’re not certain,” Ripple said.

Likely sources include flaring, venting of gas at compressor stations, and activities at processing facilities, Ripple said …

Even though the region that was monitored is Southwest Pennsylvania, the findings ring true to my own family’s experiences in Silt. The air is the worst in the mornings. If I sleep with a window open, inevitably I awaken at 4:00 a.m with nausea and/or headache plus coughing and/or sneezing. If I sleep with the window closed, I’m okay until I take the dogs outside. Then the coughing and sneezing begins. When I take the dogs outside later in the day – no coughing or sneezing. Sometimes there’s an odor — like diesel — sometimes not. It’s hard to tell because my sense of smell isn’t what it used to be. I react (eyes-ears-nose-throat) to chemical odors before I smell them.

Oh, and Silt is located downwind from the Barrett Bailey compressor station.

Ok, so now you see the EHP is a bunch of scientists and medical professionals who decided to address the public health impacts head on with or without the government. With the help of private funding they conduct their own research, air & water monitoring, health databases, and provide medical advice and assistance to people in impacted areas.

Read on —

Families Sick From Fracking Exposure Turn to Concerned Scientists
Instead of waiting years for studies, Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project is using best available science to help people with ailments

Like people in other regions transformed by the shale energy boom, residents of Washington County, Pennsylvania have complained of headaches, nosebleeds and skin rashes. But because there are no comprehensive studies about the health impacts of natural gas drilling, it’s hard to determine if their problems are linked to the gas wells and other production facilities that have sprung up around them.

A group of scientists from Pennsylvania and neighboring states have stepped in to fill this gap by forming a nonprofit—apparently the first of its kind in the United States—that provides free health consultations to local families near drilling sites. Instead of waiting years or even decades for long-term studies to emerge, the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project (SWPA-EHP) is using the best available science to help people deal with their ailments.

“As far as unconventional natural gas drilling goes, we are the public health service of the United States right now,” said Michael Kelly, the media liaison for the EHP.

David Brown, a toxicologist and the group’s co-founder, said government agencies haven’t done enough to study, analyze and mitigate the risks people face from drilling …

In other words, these professionals said, “Forget the studies, let’s deal with the real problems right in front of us.” They responded to a public health crisis.

By now you can probably see where I’m going with this. An EHP is exactly what we need in Colorado. Ever since I published the results of our family study that showed our bodies are contaminated with ethylbenzene, xylenes, and styrene, people have been contacting me and describing their symptoms. A lot of people are sick — especially oil & gas workers.

I’m glad people feel comfortable enough to discuss their symptoms with me. The problem is, other than advocate for more public health studies and maintain public awareness, there is little else I can do. I’ve talked to medical professionals who can’t speak publicly, or when they do they are ridiculed. We have a public health crisis happening and no one is doing anything about it.

We desperately need medical professionals, scientists, and philanthropists in this state who will step forward and establish a database of individuals and areas impacted, resources to help those who need medical advice or treatment, plus air and water quality monitoring so people know what is in the air they breathe and the water they drink. For whatever reasons, people are afraid to come forward and admit they are having health problems. “I have allergies” is a common excuse. People don’t have allergies all year long. We need professionals people can trust with their personal health information.

In the meantime, the SWPA-EHP website is a one-of-kind resource for advice and information about coping with the impacts of oil & gas drilling. Be aware — there is an emphasis on how to reduce and/or prevent exposure to chemical emissions in the air and water from drilling & fracking operations and facilities. In most cases the steps involved are costly and time consuming — even life altering. However in the current political climate, the burden is on people — not government or industry — to protect themselves and their families and animal companions from the hazardous impacts of oil & gas development.

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One Comment on “SWPA-EHP: a model for fracking states”

  1. Paul Robert Roden (@PaulForChange) Says:

    The other public health impact not been studied is the impact of radioactive radon in the fracked gas. There are two bills pending in the New York State Legislature to measure and monitor the amount of radon in the gas and the public health impact. The gas drillers just dismiss this radon as “harmless”. But we now have laws that mandate testing and mitigating for radon just about everywhere in the US. Radon can’t be vented from natural gas, like it can from houses and buildings. Radon is an inert gas. It is colorless and odorless. It would have to be held in a tank for 40 days before it can decay into lead that can be filtered out. But that wouldn’t be cost effective for the gas industry. If you think radon is harmless, look a the history of the uranium miners, the people who built homes on or with the uranium mill tailings out West. Radon inhalation can cause lung cancer. There is no “safe level” of radiation exposure. The impact of radiation in cumulative.

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