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ACTION: Save the Susquehanna River Basin from Fracking

Energy

Protecting Our Waters

By Iris Marie Bloom

Mark your calendars for March 15, when the Susquehanna River Basin Commission (SRBC) meets in Harrisburg, Pa. to vote on dozens of water withdrawals (many billions of gallons over four years) for fracking. The written comment period is closed, but it is now time to call the Maryland, Pennsylvania, and New York governors, and the Obama administration, to urge “no new permits” for water withdrawals for fracking in the Susquehanna Basin. SRBC should not even consider one permit without a cumulative impact study, let alone approving hundreds of permits for billions of gallons of consumptive water use for fracking.

A fraction of the water contamination cases within the Susquehanna River Basin so far includes the 17 families whose drinking water was contaminated by Chesapeake Energy in Bradford County; the families evacuated due to the Chesapeake blowout last April; at least 19 families with contaminated water in Dimock, Pa.; another 13 families in Susquehanna County including Susan Breese; and Sherry Vargson, whose experience was summarized in the current Rolling Stone Magazine this way:

“I discovered I could light my water on fire,” she says. “And I still can.” To demonstrate, she walks over to the faucet in her kitchen, lights a match and turns on the faucet. Whoosh! A flame shoots out like a blowtorch.

Vargson stopped drinking the water after she discovered the methane—but tests showed that her water also contained elevated levels of toxic chemicals like radium, manganese and strontium. Chesapeake agreed to supply Vargson with fresh drinking water, delivered to her door in five-gallon jugs once a month, but it denies any responsibility for the elevated methane levels. Tom Darrah, a Duke geologist who has examined Vargson’s well for a new study, finds that difficult to square with the facts. “Anyone who has seen the data I have and thinks this much methane in her well is from natural sources has their head in the sand,” he says.

If you’d like to read expert comments and share them with the governors, President Obama, and their respective commissioners, here is a link to expert arguments including a stream ecologist and hydrogeologist Paul Rubin. Delaware Riverkeeper Network submitted these comments to New York regarding their statewide Environmental Impact Study; they are equally and directly relevant to the SRBC process, since SRBC has similarly not performed any cumulative study of the impact from these withdrawals, which are permanently lost due to consumptive use (injected underground after being poisoned with chemicals, most of the water stays underground and what returns to the surface is “flowback,” even more poisoned with heavy metals, radioactive materials, and volatile organic chemicals / hydrocarbons, as well as toxic levels of salt and the chemical additives used in fracking).

In addition to a broad network of smaller grassroots organizations, including Protecting Our Waters, now calling for a halt on any further permits for water withdrawals in the beautiful, vital and critically endangered Susquehanna River Basin, larger and longer-established organizations are weighing in strongly at this time:

Sierra Club, Earthworks and Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper collectively concluded in February:

  • Given all the detrimental impacts of gas development on the environment and communities, Susquehanna River Basin Commissioners  need to take action and stop additional permitting and other actions that accelerate shale gas development.
  • It is inappropriate for SRBC to authorize more water withdrawal permits and implement new shale gas regulations without first performing the scientific studies necessary to ensure that decisionmaking is comprehensive and informed.
  • Read the full Sierra Club, Earthworks and Riverkeeper statement here.

If you would like to attend the meeting in Harrisburg, here are the specifics:

What: SRBC Meeting
When: Thursday, March 15 at 8:30 a.m.
Where: North Office Building, Hearing Room 1 (Ground Level), North Street (at Commonwealth Avenue) Harrisburg, Pa. 17120
POW’s Greater Philly Trainpool / Carpool Coordinator: Sarah Lowry, sarahmlowry@gmail.com, (201) 214-2580

If you can’t make it Harrisburg on March 15, call the commissioners in advance:

What: Call all four voting members of the Susquehanna River Basin Commission (SRBC) by Wednesday, March 14 at 5 p.m.

The Ask: Urge the governors of Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York and President Obama, through his Army Corps of Engineers Commissioner, to vote NO on any further permits to withdraw water for fracking in the Susquehanna River Basin. We stand united for a moratorium on water withdrawals.

Why: The SRBC plans to approve many billions of gallons of water withdrawals for fracking at their March 15 meeting, further accelerating the already rapid pace of high-volume slickwater hydraulic fracturing in the watershed. Surface and drinking water already contaminated by methane and toxic chemicals in multiple locations in the watershed has not been remediated (because it can’t be remediated). SRBC has not undertaken any cumulative impact study of fracking’s life cycle impacts on the Susquehanna River and Chesapeake Bay, which is already in critical condition and can’t take any more abuse. Ninety percent of the water in the northern Chesapeake Bay comes from the Susquehanna River. Animal and human health is at risk, and the State of Pennsylvania doesn’t even have a mechanism for residents to report health impacts from fracking.

When families’ water supplies are destroyed, they cannot even take care of their children and animals safely, let alone sell their homes. Finally, when the industry does settle a lawsuit and pay medical bills or buy devastated properties, they force a legal gag order of silence. An industry with this many toxic secrets to keep must be prevented from doing any further damage. The SRBC holds the reins for the Susquehanna River Basin, a gigantic and irreplaceable watershed. Call the commissioners now.

Call-in Days: Call any and all when you are able. To add zest, an alliance of grassroots groups has designated days:

  • MONDAY: Md. Gov. O’Malley.  
  • TUESDAY: President Obama and Army Corps of Engineers.
  • WEDNESDAY: New York Gov. Cuomo
  • WHENEVER: Pa. Gov. Corbett

The Phone Numbers:  

Each commissioner votes according to the governor’s preference. For extra influence call both the governor and the commissioner. Be respectful, patient, and extremely clear in delivering your message. You may have to explain a bit if you are one of the early callers.

1. Maryland Gov. Martin J. O’Malley (410) 974-3901 or (800) 811-8336

  • SRBC Commissioner: Dr. Robert M. Summers, Secretary, Maryland Department of the Environment (410) 537-3084
  • Email: governor@gov.state.md.us
  • In writing: Gov. O’Malley, State House, 100 State Circle, Annapolis, MD 21401 – 1925

2. New York Gov. Cuomo (518) 474-8390 (9 – 5 a live person answers) or you may have better luck with (212) 681-4580

3. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett (717) 787-2500  (8:30 AM – 6 PM live person answers)

4. President Obama (202) 456-1111 

  • Obama’s SRBC Commissioner: Colonel Christopher Larsen, commander, North Atlantic Division,
  • U.S. Army Corps of Engineers: (347) 370-4501
  • Amy Guise (who is handling the vote for Colonel Larsen), Chief Civil Project Branch, Planning Division: (410) 962-6138

Once you’ve called, consider following up with an email or snail mail letter for greater impact, and encourage groups you are part of to call and write as well. Consider educating each commissioner about specific instances of water contamination associated with hydraulic fracturing, and consider telling them about the terrible impacts on animal and human health so far. They truly may not know.

For more information, click here.

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The patient in the case report (let's call him Tom) was 54 and in good health. For two days in May, he felt unwell and was too weak to get out of bed. When his family finally brought him to the hospital, doctors found that he had a fever and signs of a severe infection, or sepsis. He tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 infection. In addition to symptoms of COVID-19, he was also too weak to move his legs.

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We are neurologists specializing in intensive care and leading studies related to neurological complications from COVID-19. Given the occurrence of Guillain-Barre Syndrome in prior pandemics with other corona viruses like SARS and MERS, we are investigating a possible link between Guillain-Barre Syndrome and COVID-19 and tracking published reports to see if there is any link between Guillain-Barre Syndrome and COVID-19.

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What Is Guillain-Barre Syndrome?

Guillain-Barre syndrome occurs when the body's own immune system attacks and injures the nerves outside of the spinal cord or brain – the peripheral nervous system. Most commonly, the injury involves the protective sheath, or myelin, that wraps nerves and is essential to nerve function.

Without the myelin sheath, signals that go through a nerve are slowed or lost, which causes the nerve to malfunction.

To diagnose Guillain-Barre Syndrome, neurologists perform a detailed neurological exam. Due to the nerve injury, patients often may have loss of reflexes on examination. Doctors often need to perform a lumbar puncture, otherwise known as spinal tap, to sample spinal fluid and look for signs of inflammation and abnormal antibodies.

Studies have shown that giving patients an infusion of antibodies derived from donated blood or plasma exchange – a process that cleans patients' blood of harmful antibodies - can speed up recovery. A very small subset of patients may need these therapies long-term.

The majority of Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients improve within a few weeks and eventually can make a full recovery. However, some patients with Guillain-Barre Syndrome have lingering symptoms including weakness and abnormal sensations in arms and/or legs; rarely patients may be bedridden or disabled long-term.

Guillain-Barre Syndrome and Pandemics

As the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps across the globe, many neurologic specialists have been on the lookout for potentially serious nervous system complications such as Guillain-Barre Syndrome.

Though Guillain-Barre Syndrome is rare, it is well known to emerge following bacterial infections, such as Campylobacter jejuni, a common cause of food poisoning, and a multitude of viral infections including the flu virus, Zika virus and other coronaviruses.

Studies showed an increase in Guillain-Barre Syndrome cases following the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic, suggesting a possible connection. The presumed cause for this link is that the body's own immune response to fight the infection turns on itself and attacks the peripheral nerves. This is called an "autoimmune" condition. When a pandemic affects as many people as our current COVID-19 crisis, even a rare complication can become a significant public health problem. That is especially true for one that causes neurological dysfunction where the recovery takes a long time and may be incomplete.

The first reports of Guillain-Barre Syndrome in COVID-19 pandemic originated from Italy, Spain and China, where the pandemic surged before the U.S. crisis.

Though there is clear clinical suspicion that COVID-19 can lead to Guillain-Barre Syndrome, many important questions remain. What are the chances that someone gets Guillain-Barre Syndrome during or following a COVID-19 infection? Does Guillain-Barre Syndrome happen more often in those who have been infected with COVID-19 compared to other types of infections, such as the flu?

The only way to get answers is through a prospective study where doctors perform systematic surveillance and collect data on a large group of patients. There are ongoing large research consortia hard at work to figure out answers to these questions.

Understanding the Association Between COVID-19 and Guillain-Barre Syndrome

While large research studies are underway, overall it appears that Guillain-Barre Syndrome is a rare but serious phenomenon possibly linked to COVID-19. Given that more than 10.7 million cases have been reported for COVID-19, there have been 10 reported cases of COVID-19 patients with Guillain-Barre Syndrome so far – only two reported cases in the U.S., five in Italy, two cases in Iran and one from Wuhan, China.

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Due to the pandemic and infection-containment considerations, diagnostic tests, such as a nerve conduction study that used to be routine for patients with suspected Guillain-Barre Syndrome, are more difficult to do. In both U.S. cases, the initial diagnosis and treatment were all based on clinical examination by a neurological experts rather than any tests. Both patients survived but with significant residual weakness at the time these case reports came out, but that is not uncommon for Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients. The road to recovery may sometimes be long, but many patients can make a full recovery with time.

Though the reported cases of Guillain-Barre Syndrome so far all have severe symptoms, this is not uncommon in a pandemic situation where the less sick patients may stay home and not present for medical care for fear of being exposed to the virus. This, plus the limited COVID-19 testing capability across the U.S., may skew our current detection of Guillain-Barre Syndrome cases toward the sicker patients who have to go to a hospital. In general, the majority of Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients do recover, given enough time. We do not yet know whether this is true for COVID-19-related cases at this stage of the pandemic. We and colleagues around the world are working around the clock to find answers to these critical questions.

Sherry H-Y. Chou is an Associate Professor of Critical Care Medicine, Neurology, and Neurosurgery, University of Pittsburgh.

Aarti Sarwal is an Associate Professor, Neurology, Wake Forest University.

Neha S. Dangayach is an Assistant Professor of Neurology and Neurosurgery, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

Disclosure statement: Sherry H-Y. Chou receives funding from The University of Pittsburgh Clinical Translational Science Institute (CTSI), the National Institute of Health, and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine Dean's Faculty Advancement Award. Sherry H-Y. Chou is a member of Board of Directors for the Neurocritical Care Society. Neha S. Dangayach receives funding from the Bee Foundation, the Friedman Brain Institute, the Neurocritical Care Society, InCHIP-UConn Center for mHealth and Social Media Seed Grant. She is faculty for emcrit.org and for AiSinai. Aarti Sarwal does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Reposted with permission from The Conversation.


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"Of course, like in any collaborative effort, there are areas of negotiation and compromise," said the New York Democrat. "But I do believe that the Climate Task Force effort meaningfully and substantively improved Biden's positions."

 

The 110 pages of policy recommendations from the six eight-person Unity Task Forces on education, the economy, criminal justice, immigration, climate change, and healthcare are aimed at shaping negotiations over the 2020 Democratic platform at the party's convention next month.

Sanders said that while the "end result isn't what I or my supporters would've written alone, the task forces have created a good policy blueprint that will move this country in a much-needed progressive direction and substantially improve the lives of working families throughout our country."

"I look forward to working with Vice President Biden to help him win this campaign," the Vermont senator added, "and to move this country forward toward economic, racial, social, and environmental justice."

Biden, for his part, applauded the task forces "for helping build a bold, transformative platform for our party and for our country."

"I am deeply grateful to Bernie Sanders for working with us to unite our party and deliver real, lasting change for generations to come," said the former vice president.

On the life-or-death matter of reforming America's dysfunctional private health insurance system—a subject on which Sanders and Biden clashed repeatedly throughout the Democratic primary process—the Unity Task Force affirmed healthcare as "a right" but did not embrace Medicare for All, the signature policy plank of the Vermont senator's presidential bid.

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Observers and advocacy groups also applauded the Unity Task Forces for recommending the creation of a postal banking system, endorsing a ban on for-profit charter schools, ending the use of private prisons, and imposing a 100-day moratorium on deportations "while conducting a full-scale study on current practices to develop recommendations for transforming enforcement policies and practices at ICE and CBP."

Marisa Franco, director of immigrant rights group Mijente, said in a statement that "going into these task force negotiations, we knew we were going to have to push Biden past his comfort zone, both to reconcile with past offenses and to carve a new path forward."

"That is exactly what we did, unapologetically," said Franco, a member of the Immigration Task Force. "For years, Mijente, along with the broader immigrant rights movement, has fought to reshape the narrative around immigration towards racial justice and to focus these very demands. We expect Biden and the Democratic Party to implement them in their entirety."

"There is no going back," Franco added. "Not an inch, not a step. We must only move forward from here."

Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.