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.
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.
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.
[see http://m.npr.org/news/front/152268475?singlePage=true for complete article]
They started fracing on a regular basis in 1959.
Millions of wells have been fraced in the intervening 50+ years.
It seems strange that it would take 50 years for issues to appear.
RE: "Must be something to it."
Only in the minds of those with small minds.
News reporting probably hasn't changed much thru history because writers and reporters are generally not experts in the fields they report on, as most readers and watchers of the news aren't either. As most of us, including doctors are not experts in vapor and gas toxicity or analysis. Like Paul you are suggesting that if a company genetically and chemically alters seedlings, as Paul would call X, which the outcome of damage should be easily traced, that if you call drilling X the outcome is they are guilty. The reason folks are upset with this discussion is that even without any scientific knowledge many of us armchair experts know at this point any statement pointing fingers is mere conjecture usually directed by agenda not fact. Too many people are lined up to throw stones as soon as someone like Paul points a finger whether based on fact or fiction. Wishing for an outcome does not make it so. This kind of ignorant logic has had many innocent people hung, stoned, drowned and burnt to death throughout history.
Actually what Mr Pitzarella said was that the odors started before the well drilling started. (by about 6 months )He also said that Range has been working with the company and will continue to do so....even though they know it has nothing to do with their well site.
When you and your fellow travelers misrepresent the facts it really hurts you credibility.
C'mon, Jim, now you're bringing facts into the discussion. They can't have that!
Ignoring frivolous claims is not shutting down an investigation. Range knows the problem started well before they started drilling which means they know they have no liability. Asking the same question over and over because the answers don't match what the 'reporter' wants to hear isn't reporting. You claim Mr. Pitzarella cited no evidence when he stated it was not a natural gas issue and that they 'don't want to examine the evidence'. What evidence? No one has presented any evidence that in any way implicates drilling, how could they when the drilling hadn't started when the problem did? If you really want to be a reporter start following the smell of agendas and be honest about what you find.
In a well-regulated environment, when a hazard comes along (people who happen to smoke dying of cancer, people sprayed with agent orange getting sick, people who live near industry inhaling fumes and fainting), the environmental agencies come in, the tobacco/pesticide/gas/smelting companies are forced by law to SHARE information about the chemicals in their operations, scientists investigate, and causes are figured out quickly, and corrected (perhaps with warnings on cigarettes, new restrictions on pesticide use, etc).
But a realistic person looking at industry knows that tobacco/pesticide/gas/smelting companies have strong incentives to maximize their profits -- sell more tobacco, sell more agent orange, sell more hexane & methane, sell more metal -- and most companies will cut corners, injure some workers, perhaps sicken some customers, and pollute if it helps their profits.
It's up to us as Pennsylvania residents to insist that Corbett/PA/DEP and EPA strengthen environmental regulations so that people aren't getting sick on the job as these Cornerstone workers were, and our land is kept safe from major pollution. If we as Pennsylvania citizens don't keep the gas industry / smelting operation / auto body shop or whoever is responsible for this honest, and hold them responsible for this health hazard, we can expect more mysterious clouds of fumes causing people to pass out, get sick, skip work...
If there are even bigger health problems at the well pad or smelting plant, I would be surprised if the company didn't keep that secret as much as possible.
If you read my emails you'll notice that I haven't blamed the gas industry
Where were you when Rendell was in office? So this is about Corbett then, and his failures?
RE: "If you read my emails you'll notice that I haven't blamed the gas industry"
But you mentioned the gas industry, when the most obvious blame lies elsewhere - when the problem started 6 months before (distant) drilling activity started.
Trying to introduce the gas industry into a perjorative situation where it has no place is downright dishonest!
Shame, shame, shame!
People who don't have the ability to see past the length of their own arm cannot understand this.
They also cannot understand how easy it is for others to see through their statements.
"and most companies will cut corners, injure some workers, perhaps sicken some customers, and pollute if it helps their profits."
You have a distorted view of the world. Most companies care about their companies. Very few purposefully harm them. Where did you get such a negative view of the world?
RE: "People living near gas well drilling around the country are reporting similar problems, plus headaches, rashes, wheezing, aches and pains and other symptoms. "
I have to be honest, I occasionally suffer from headaches. I had a really bad rash this Spring. I was wheezing a bit this morning. And, the most concerning part is that I have daily aches and pains.
All along I thought that "one too many" was the cause of my headaches.
And, I had been blaming that rash on the poison ivy I had tramped through while cleaing out some brush.
I had blamed that wheezing this morning on overdoing it on yesterdays overly aggressive hike.
And those aches and pains; well I thought these were just a part of getting old.
Now I know it was all caused by that nearby gas drilling, the nearest well being over twenty miles from me.
It is amazing what you can learn from an Anti-Fracers.
"Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength because of thine enemies, that thou mightest still the enemy and the avenger."