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April 26, 2014

Dangers of fracking the topic at Villa Maria

NEW CASTLE — Public health concerns about fracking must be addressed, a nurse practitioner told approximately 150 people at Villa Maria on Thursday.

Suann Davison of the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project said that gas and oil drilling puts hazardous chemicals into the environment through seismic testing, wellpad construction, drilling, fracking, wastewater, flaring and gas production and processing. She pointed out that fracking is exempt from key environmental regulations.

The nurse practitioner and former Air Force nurse said one study showed up to 780 chemicals in fracking water, some of them secret or “proprietary” chemicals.  She said that not all are bad, but some have documented negative health effects and their effect when combined is unknown. She said the common health effects from these chemicals include neurotoxicity, skin irritation, respiratory problems and gastrointestinal or liver damage.

“Not everyone is going to get sick,” she said, “but those with pre-existing health conditions are more at risk.”

Air emissions are also of concern, she said, and cited a Colorado School of Public Health study by Lisa McKenzie that concluded that both cancer and other health risks are greater for residents near wells.

She said some studies indicate that those living more than 2 miles away from a wellpad gas drilling are unlikely to be exposed to air emissions. But she said emissions from gas processing plants are an exception, and under certain conditions they can reach over three miles.

Another risk from drilling, she said, is that wastewater pipelines have radiation that can also pose health dangers, including cancer, anemia, bone loss and leukemia.

She cited studies showing an increased chance of congenital heart and neural tube defects within a 10 mile radius of drilling. Davison also talked about risks from noise damage, and said a noise ordinance is “the best way to fight a wellpad.”

Davison talked about ways to reduce the amount of chemical pollution in the home for those living in areas of high emissions, including air conditioning systems, taking off shoes before entering a house, using a vacuum with a HEPA filter and avoiding sweeping with a broom.

More information is available at the group’s website,

Also speaking was Dr. Helen Boylen and her students, Tyler Umstead and Jamie Linderman, who described Westminster College’s ALLARM water quality monitoring project. They distributed water probes to residents who want to monitor nearby streams and explained how monitoring can detect dangerous pollution levels so authorities can be notified quickly. They invited those who want to participate to visit their website, The group also has a Facebook page. 

Boylan, who is chair of Westminister’s environmental science department and associate professor of chemistry, said, “Drillers are not the bad guy. But by being vigilant, hopefully they will be a little more careful when in our region.”

Carolyn Knapp and Carol French, dairy farmers from Bradford County, discussed various clauses of gas leases and described their difficulties getting out of leases after they became concerned about the effects of drilling. French said her daughter became sick, and two neighbors’ spleens burst after drilling began.

In addition, 19 of her cows and nine calves died in 2013 and more have died this year, and she lost 10 acres of corn.  She believes the problems with the herd are due to changes in her water but said the cost of buying water for her animals is prohibitive.



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