There was a radio story this morning about workers at a health clinic in Burgettstown (west of Pittsburgh, PA) getting sick from fumes.  They're temporarily moving the clinic.

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Published: May 15, 2012

by Rob Stein

Kay Allen had just started work, and everything seemed quiet at the Cornerstone Care community health clinic in Burgettstown, Pa. But things didn't stay quiet for long. "All the girls, they were yelling at me in the back, 'You gotta come out here quick. You gotta come out here quick,'" said Allen, 59, a nurse from Weirton, W.Va. Allen rushed out front and knew right away what all the yelling was about. The whole place reeked — like someone had spilled a giant bottle of nail polisher remover. "So I told everybody to get outside and get fresh air. So we went outside. And Aggie said, 'Kay, I'm gonna be sick.' But before I get in, to get something for her to throw up in — she had to go over the railing," she said.

Nothing like this had ever happened in the 20 years that Allen has been at the clinic. After about 45 minutes, she thought the coast was clear and took everyone back inside. "It was fine. But the next thing you know, they're calling me again. There was another gust. Well, the one girl, Miranda, she was sitting at the registration place, and you could tell she'd had too much of it. And Miranda got overcome by that and she passed out," she said.

'It's The Unknown I Think That's The Scariest Thing'

This sort of thing has been happening for weeks. Mysterious gusts of fumes keep wafting through the clinic. In fact, just the day before being interviewed by NPR, Allen suddenly felt like she'd been engulfed by one of these big invisible bubbles. "And all of a sudden your tongue gets this metal taste on it. And it feels like it's enlarging, and it just feels like you're not getting enough air in, because your throat gets real 'burn-ey.' And the next I know I ... passed out," Allen said.

Half a dozen of Allen's co-workers stopped coming in. One old-timer quit. No one can figure out what's going on. For doctors and nurses used to taking care of sick people, it's unnerving to suddenly be the patients. "It's the unknown I think that's the scariest thing," she said.

Richard Rinehart, who runs the rural clinic, can't help but wonder whether the natural gas drilling going on all around the area may have something to do with what's been happening. "I lay at bed at night thinking all kinds of theories. Is something coming through the air from some process that they're using? I know they use a lot of chemicals and so forth. Certainly that could be a culprit. We're wondering, Is something coming through the ground?" Rinehart said, noting that he'd just noticed a new drill on a hill overlooking the back of the clinic.

Now, no one knows whether the gas drilling has anything to do with the problems at the clinic. It could easily turn out to be something completely unrelated. There's a smelting plant down the road and old coal mines everywhere. "Anything could be possible, and we just are trying to get to the root of it," he said.

Mysterious Symptoms, Lots Of Questions

People living near gas well drilling around the country are reporting similar problems, plus headaches, rashes, wheezing, aches and pains and other symptoms. Doctors like Julie DeRosa, who works at Cornerstone, aren't sure how to help people with these mysterious symptoms. "I don't want to ignore symptoms that may be clues to a serious condition. I also don't want to order a lot of unnecessary tests. I  don't want to feed any kind of hysteria," DeRosa said.

To try to figure out what's going on, the clinic called the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, which is investigating. It also started testing the air for chemicals, monitoring wind direction around the clinic and keeping diaries of everyone's symptoms. In addition, the clinic contacted Raina Rippel, project director for the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project.

The local nonprofit was set up recently to help people in this kind of situation. Her team tested tap water from inside a men's room and from a stream out back. Rippel knows people in the area have lot of questions.

"Is my water fit to drink? Is the air fit to breathe? Am I going to suffer long-term health impacts from this?" she said.

...
Charles Werntz at West Virginia University, an occupational medicine specialist, is used to dealing with chemical exposures. Lately, he's seeing more people who live near the drilling. But for now, he says he can't really do much more than offer basic advice: Drink bottled water, air out the house, leave your shoes outside. If it's still too bad, move — if possible.

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Back at Cornerstone, Rinehart just wants to get back to taking care of patients. "We are in the business of trying to improve and maintain the public's health here. And now we are in the throes of it. And we're trying not to point fingers," Rinehart said. The next day, people got sick again and the clinic had to be evacuated once more. So they've moved the clinic to temporary offices until someone figures out what's going on.

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[see http://m.npr.org/news/front/152268475?singlePage=true for complete article]

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RE: "Yesterday the Ohio State Senate approved legislation that would prevent physicians from sharing information about patients"

Makes a lot of sense to me, I am all for Doctor - Patient confidentiality.

JS

The antis have their heads in their asses so much that they believe everyone is being exposed to the same self-made noxious environment they live in.

 With medical malpractice being the 3rd leading cause of death in the US I sure as H do not want them involved in the oil field! 

I'm disappointed by the discussion so far.  I hoped that posting a news story or two that asked questions about air pollution in Burgettstown, and questions whether it is Marcellus gas-related, or smelting-related, or something else, would encourage people to contribute useful information.

Instead we've seen, so far,
  * a lot of comments mocking fracktivists;
  * accusations of hysteria on the part of those asking questions;
  * several comments setting up a straw man (e.g. inaccurate fabricated quotes like "it must be natural gas drilling") and then striking down that straw man;
  * other straw man arguments that fixate on the reference to an odor of nail polish remover smell (ignoring the reference to metallic taste) and then striking down a connection between the gas industry and acetone;
  * comments with the spirit of "you don't belong here";
  * a link to an article on the incident at energyindepth.org (a web site funded by the oil & gas industry, and hence a source likely more biased than a newspaper or radio news network) that conflated questions about possible gas drilling-causes with slurs, then used those imagined slurs to support a sense of victimization of the gas industry, made an attempt to dismiss investigation and explain the health problem via a nearby auto repair shop, and blamed representative Jesse White and the clinic owner, who they basically and inaccurately accused of a rush to judgment;
  * an article written by Jesse White, voicing disappointment that the DEP has been so slow to investigate,
  * a bizarre condemnation of The Patch as a left-leaning organization.

Summarizing, we've seen some people expressing concern for a health problem and encouraging investigation, and a mostly dismissive and mocking reaction from the gas industry and many gomarcellusshale.com readers.  Does this mean they/you don't want the air pollution problem investigated?

I ran across some relevant letters to the editor of the Washington/Greene County Observer-Reporter newspaper:

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Letter to the Editor: Why evacuate half of building?
5/10/2012

I am writing this letter because of the ordeal that is happening at Cornerstone Care Medical and Dental facility ("DEP to monitor plaza following evacuations," May 8). I don't understand how they can shut down half the building and let the other half continue to be open.


I am an employee in the dental department who hasn't worked the past month, because I was getting headaches and my blood pressure was going high. There are others in the lower level also who have gotten sick within the last few months. I also know of one time about a month ago a patient said she was getting sick. The fumes are not only upstairs; they are downstairs, too.


I just don't think that Cornerstone Care values their dental department or their dental patients.

Monica Trevena


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Letter to the Editor: Cornerstone committed to service
5/13/2012

The writer of "Why evacuate half the building" (May 10) ignores a whole lot of truth when she questions Cornerstone Care's commitment to employees and patients. The writer does not mention that on the whole the employees of the dental department have insisted that we remain open because the impact of the unexplained odors have been very minimal so far in the area of the dental department. She does not mention that Cornerstone Care has enabled employees the option not to report to work without jeopardizing the employee's job should the employee be uncomfortable in the building. She does not mention more than $10,000 in testing to ensure the safety of patients and employees. She does not mention the long hours of telephone calls and meetings with various experts and agencies in an effort to get answers.


Not mentioned are the extraordinary efforts being made to sustain health care services to a community of which we have been a part for nearly 40 years. Closing our doors on the community is simply not an option.
The truth is that we have expanded health services in recent years, including significant improvements to our dental department. The truth is that we have upgraded our dental center with new equipment, new chairs, remodeling and electronic dental records so that we may provide the best possible care to our patients. The truth is that we have invested nearly $600,000 over the last two years to upgrade the Community Medical and Dental Plaza.


The truth is that we feel terrible about the inconvenience and stress that this has caused for our employees and patients. The truth is that we have been open and honest about our ordeal. We hope that our community will stick with us as we struggle to return to normalcy. I invite anyone with questions to call me at 724-947-2255.

Richard T. Rinehart
Washington

The writer is chief of operations of Cornerstone Care.

With regards to:

  * a link to an article on the incident at energyindepth.org (a web site funded by the oil & gas industry, and hence a source likely more biased than a newspaper or radio news network) that conflated questions about possible gas drilling-causes with slurs, then used those imagined slurs to support a sense of victimization of the gas industry, made an attempt to dismiss investigation and explain the health problem via a nearby auto repair shop, and blamed representative Jesse White and the clinic owner, who they basically and inaccurately accused of a rush to judgment;

 

While the energy in depth people are industry professionals, their arguments are based in fact. They do brush aside nonsense, why shouldnt they. Does not fact & science trump ignorant claims? How about a little bit of common sense?

I am disappointed that this discussion was ever raised.

There is absolutely no reason why anyone should suspect that the “acetone” like fumes were in any way related to the drilling for Natural Gas.

The first reports of the fumes predated drilling.

There is no drilling close to the facility.

There are several nearby facilities that frequently use chemicals of a type that  could cause the described fumes.

The logical way to investigate the problem is to focus on the most likely proximal culprits, eliminating them – one by one.

The least logical way to investigate the problem is to focus on the most distant and least likely scapegoat.

Scapegoating the innocent is no way to proceed.

RE: “a lot of comments mocking fracktivists”

When “fracktivists” go on a scapegoating expedition it is the duty of the truthseekers to mock their lack of logic.

RE: “accusations of hysteria”

When people accuse an imaginary ”Boogie-man” for a real problem, that is hysteria.

RE: “arguments that fixate on the reference to an odor of nail polish remover smell (ignoring the reference to metallic taste) and then striking down a connection between the gas industry and acetone”

The quotes from those of the affected were “an odor of nail polish remover” describes the smell of chemicals used by an automobile painting shop (immediately across the street): the “metallic taste” suggests a relationship with a Smelter located nearby; and there is no “connection between the gas industry and acetone” (especially when there is no nearby natural gas drilling).

RE: “comments with the spirit of "you don't belong here”.

The reality is such nonsense does not belong here.

RE: “Summarizing, we've seen some people expressing concern for a health problem and encouraging investigation, and a mostly dismissive and mocking reaction from the gas industry and many gomarcellusshale.com readers.  Does this mean they/you don't want the air pollution problem investigated?

No, it means that it should be investigated in an unbiased and scientific manner.

That would require that the most logical sources should first be investigated and ruled out. The most unlikely source should be the very last one to be investigated. To do otherwise is dishonest.

 

JS

Paint shop!.............methelisocyanates!   Bopal India!  Methelisocyanates have a cummulative effect that once they make you sick you will most likely always become ill with exposure.  Once full too late.  Not sure how you spell metheliso.................Paint shops could be spraying epoxy primers also and although polyurathanes use much less thinners today, they are much more toxic than old fashion paint and laquer thinners.   Idiots will let a daycare open next to a paint shop but complain about the boogey man.

If a doctor could know if a patient had a condition caused from fracking is the question.  How would they come to that conclusion?  are they chemists?  Even if they were, how does the doctor know where a patient was exposed if it was chemical related?  Unless there was a high incidence of people seeking medical help for the same condition in the same area, the work required to place true blame for any exposure issue like this is more akin to a CSI episode and way beyond a doctors field.  A doctor would be spouting mere conjecture if they even claimed such an event.  HIPAA regulations aside, this is the kind of logic that led to people being burned as witches and the discusion of it and political concern is ridiculous from either the pro or anti side.

I find it intensely irritating that so many media reports have to somehow bring oil and gas exploration/production into an allegation of some health, drinking water, air quality, or physical discomfort issue. The stampede to this ill-conceived conclusion positively defies any logic or common-sense reasoning. It seems to me that any repectable reporter, without a pre-conceived agenda, would first consider what effects are being experienced by the crewmen and support workers who are literally within inches or a few feet of the source of the imagined toxicity and unhealthy environment.

There is ample documented evidence (facts!) that oil and gas industry employees work in a safe and healthy environment, one of the best in fact. Is all of that evidence (fact!) manufactured? Hardly.

As an older country-boy mentor frequently commented to me during my early years in construction, "Son, I shore don't know why they call it 'common sense' 'cause there ain't much of it around!"

Dan Golaski: I disagree.  You seem to be arguing that a doctor could never conclude with high confidence that X is a cause for health condition Y, in the case where X = fracking and Y = loss of consciousness at Cornerstone in Burgettstown.  How about we substitute X = cigarette smoking and Y = lung cancer?  Physicians are trained as scientists.  Some of them are chemists.  Some are specialists in toxicology.  Wouldn't it make sense to bring in people who have experience in that area to investigate this scientifically?  As opposed to, say, dismissing it based on a gut feeling?

You say "this is the kind of logic that led to people being burned as witches".  Huh?  Which logic are you referring to?  The questions asked by the reporters that have covered this story?

Paul,

"that a doctor could never conclude with high confidence that X is a cause for health condition Y, in the case where X = fracking and Y = loss of consciousness at Cornerstone in Burgettstown.  How about we substitute X = cigarette smoking and Y = lung cancer?" 

With your logic X could = any idiot in town flushed a solvent and the clinic has a poor vapor seal on their waste plumbing or any multitude of speculation.  Untill the cause is known it is unwarranted speculation.  You are correct i am arguing that most not "a" doctor could never conclude with high confidence that X is a cause for health condition Y.  And "a" doctor is not all or most doctors.  As you say "Some of them are chemists.  Some are specialists in toxicology".  That is not most or all doctors.   You seem to be arguing that doctors should be able to  carte blance the cause of a patients ailment when most of them are trained only to treat ailments.  Doctors that treat patients don't typically moonlight as scientific researchers or investigators.  Once again this is the kind of logic that is reffered to as "a witch hunt"

Paul,

You should return to the university where you paid for your education and explain to them that you would like a refund because those funds were wasted as you are actually dumber than when you applied there for admittance. You should then take those funds and go to another university and obtain a proper education - one that provides you with some means of logically evaluating absurd claims and ridiculous correlations between causes and effects to that you can be a productive member of society.

On the other hand, you may be stuck with the age-old affliction of being educated beyond your intelligence. If there is any good news in this, it is that you certainly have plenty of company relative to all of the other knuckleheads who spout and believe the same drivel you evidently do.

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