How a Family Surrounded by Shale Gas Plants Took Action
By Tyler Rivlin and Leann Leiter
Allen Young and his family are surrounded. They can see three sizable natural gas plants–operated by Dominion and Energy Transfer Partners–without taking a step off their property. Over the past three years, these facilities have taken over the boomerang-shaped ridge less than a half-mile from the Young's home in Powhatan Point, Ohio.
Soon after the compressor stations went into operation, Allen, his wife and two children noticed unsettling changes. Their previously fresh air often smelled, they were plagued by noise from engines and machinery, and the whole family experienced frequent headaches, dizziness, shortness of breath, nosebleeds and other respiratory symptoms. Concerned for his family's health and wellbeing, Allen attempted to resolve these issues by reporting them directly to the sites' operators for over three years–but to no avail. He'd even called and written to Dominion about the ongoing problems. Citing the plethora of gas companies in the area and the lack of "evidence" that Dominion was the one responsible for the problems, the company wrote back: "Dominion is declining your claim."
Fortunately, they haven't given up. Along with other Ohio residents, Allen is using an important avenue for action: submitting complaints to the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (Ohio EPA) and the Ohio Department of Health (ODH). Recently, Earthworks has teamed up with Ohio residents like Allen to pressure these public agencies to do their jobs and hold companies accountable for fixing problems and ending the pollution they create.
Through the Community Empowerment Project, Earthworks offers tools and support to residents like Allen who live on the front lines of oil and gas development. We use a specialized camera that allows us to see and document the air pollution endemic to facilities like the Dominion and ETP compressors. This technology, called Optical Gas Imaging (OGI), makes visible this normally invisible pollution, and is the same technology used by regulators like the Ohio EPA. After Allen saw OGI footage of the emissions he and his family were exposed to every day, he decided to start submitting formal complaints to the Ohio EPA.
A complaint is a way of officially reporting problems or concerns to regulators. Ohio EPA rules require that the agency investigate and respond to complaints from the public. Together, Allen and Earthworks staff submitted complaints to the Ohio EPA on each of the three facilities, and awaited their response.
Meanwhile, with Earthworks' support, Allen incorporated new methods to document and share his observations. He began logging his family's health symptoms and measuring the noise pollution from the compressors with a phone app. He shared his family's story in a video interview conducted by Earthworks, and was featured in news stories by the Allegheny Front and local WTRF News.
Ohio EPA responded to the complaints by contacting the operators to ensure the facilities were running as permitted. They told us to contact the county health department, and later, the ODH–leading us in a frustrating circle, with those health agencies stating that oil and gas is not their purview and directing us back to Ohio EPA.
Finally, with more calls–and the suggestions of some very helpful, determined ODH staff–we learned of a small office within the Department with the ability to investigate exactly these types of complaints. The ODH's Health Assessment Section eagerly took the details Allen had carefully amassed–including noise levels, photographs of his children's skin rashes and nose bleeds, prescriptions for recently emerged health symptoms–and began its own investigation by collaborating with Ohio EPA.
Within two months, ODH and Ohio EPA had conducted air quality testing right in Allen's backyard. Ohio EPA informed us of additional plans for a summer-long odor study at these and other nearby sites. What's more–and perhaps the biggest relief for Allen and his family–Dominion installed new equipment to control noise, and the Young's backyard fell quiet again.
In all, Earthworks and Allen submitted a total of nine complaints. During a repeat visit in August, the OGI camera revealed what appeared to be reduced emissions and we saw operators conducting maintenance at the sites.
All that Allen achieved–air monitoring, the attention of regulators, action by Dominion to reduce the noise pollution–are vital improvements for his family and community. But these compressors are three of the more than 100,000 gas facilities in Ohio. And the Youngs are among 3.25 million Ohioans living within ½ mile of those sources of dangerous air pollution. Currently, Earthworks is awaiting the results of Ohio EPA's investigations into seven complaints we submitted from other locations between March and July of 2018.
Agencies should take action when residents complain, but also need to inspect the sites they permit much more frequently, and work harder to reduce pollution from the industry they're charged with overseeing. In fact, Ohio EPA staff recently confirmed that they don't actually audit the wells and compressors in Ohio with unannounced site inspections, checking up on them only when they receive a complaint–and even then, they may only call the operator for verbal assurance before dismissing the complaint as resolved.
The complaint process requires strong safeguards and regulators who have the resources and the will to enforce them. It demands persistence on the part of residents like Allen Young. And it takes more of them reporting the problems of the industry to make all of Ohio a safer, more livable place.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
The Washington Redskins will retire their controversial name and logo, the National Football League (NFL) team announced Monday.
By Alyssa Murdoch, Chrystal Mantyka-Pringle and Sapna Sharma
Summer has finally arrived in the northern reaches of Canada and Alaska, liberating hundreds of thousands of northern stream fish from their wintering habitats.
A Good News Story?<p>On the surface, the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/fwb.13569" target="_blank">results from our study</a> appear to provide a "good news" story. Warming temperatures were linked to higher numbers of fish, more species overall and, therefore, potentially more fishing opportunities for northerners.</p><p>Initially, we were surprised to learn that warming was increasing the distribution of cold-adapted fish. We reasoned that modest amounts of warming could lead to benefits such as increased food and winter habitat availability without reaching stressful levels for many species.</p>
Photo of Arctic grayling (left) and Dolly Varden trout (right). Alyssa Murdoch / Lilian Tran / Nunavik Research Centre and Tracey Loewen / Fisheries and Oceans Canada<p>Yet, not all fish species fared equally well. Ecologically unique northern species — those that have evolved in colder, more nutrient-poor environments, such as Arctic grayling and Dolly Varden trout — were showing declines with warming.</p>
Fish Strandings and Buried Eggs<p>Recent news headlines run the gamut for Pacific salmon — from their increased escapades <a href="https://nunatsiaq.com/stories/article/more-pacific-salmon-showing-up-in-western-arctic-waters/" target="_blank">into the Arctic</a> to <a href="https://www.juneauempire.com/news/warm-waters-across-alaska-cause-salmon-die-offs/" target="_blank">massive pre-spawning die-offs</a> in central Alaska. Similarly, results from our study revealed different outcomes for fish depending on local climatic conditions, including Pacific salmon.</p><p>We found that warmer spring and fall temperatures may be helping juvenile salmon by providing a longer and more plentiful growing season, and by supporting early egg development in northern regions that were previously too cold for survival.</p><p>In contrast, salmon declined in regions that were experiencing wetter fall conditions, pointing to an increased risk of flooding and sedimentation that could bury or dislodge incubating eggs.</p>
Headwaters of the Wind River within the largely intact Peel River watershed in northern Canada. Don Reid / Wildlife Conservation Society Canada / Author provided<p>Interestingly, we found that certain climatic combinations, such as warmer summer water temperatures with decreased summer rainfall, were important in determining where Pacific salmon could survive. Summer warming in drier watersheds led to declines, suggesting that lowered streamflows may have increased the risk of fish becoming stranded in subpar habitats that were too warm and crowded.</p>
The Fate of Northern Fisheries<p>The promise of a warmer and more accessible Arctic has attracted mounting interest in new economic opportunities, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.marpol.2019.103637" target="_blank">including fisheries</a>. As warming rates at higher latitudes are already <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/" target="_blank">two to three times global levels</a>, it seems probable that northern biodiversity will experience dramatic shifts in the coming decades.</p><p>Despite the many unknowns surrounding the future of Pacific salmon, many fisheries are currently <a href="https://doi.org/10.1080/03632415.2017.1374251" target="_blank">thriving following warmer and more productive northern oceans</a>, and some <a href="https://doi.org/10.14430/arctic68876" target="_blank">Arctic Indigenous communities are developing new salmon fisheries</a>.</p><p>As warming continues, the commercial salmon fishing industry is poised to expand northwards, but its success will largely depend on extenuating factors such as <a href="https://www.eenews.net/stories/1060023067" target="_blank">changes to marine habitat and food sources</a> and <a href="https://www.yukon-news.com/news/promising-chinook-salmon-run-failed-to-materialize-in-the-yukon-river-panel-hears/" target="_blank">how many fish are caught during the freshwater stages of their journey</a>.</p><p>Even with the potential for increased northern biodiversity, it is important to recognize that some northern communities may be unable to adapt or may <a href="https://thenarwhal.ca/searching-for-the-yukon-rivers-missing-chinook/" target="_blank">lose individual species that are associated with important cultural values</a>.</p>
- New England Fishing Communities Being Destroyed by 'Climate ... ›
- Shrimp Fishing Banned in Gulf of Maine Due to Ocean Warming ... ›
- Atlantic Salmon Is All But Extinct as a Genetically Eroded Version of ... ›
A heat wave that set in over the South and Southwest left much of the U.S. blanketed in record-breaking triple digit temperatures over the weekend. The widespread and intense heat wave will last for weeks, making the magnitude and duration of its heat impressive, according to The Washington Post.
- Hot Weather and COVID-19: Added Threats of Reopening States in ... ›
- 50 Million Americans Are Currently Living Under Some Type of Heat ... ›
- Second Major Heat Wave This Summer Smashes Records Across ... ›
By Joni Sweet
If you get a call from a number you don't recognize, don't hit decline — it might be a contact tracer calling to let you know that someone you've been near has tested positive for the coronavirus.
Interviews With Contact Tracers<p>Contact tracing is a public health strategy that involves identifying everyone who may have been in contact with a person who has the coronavirus. Contact tracers collect information and provide guidance to help contain the transmission of disease.</p><p>It's been used during outbreaks of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), Ebola, measles, and now the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.</p><p>It starts when the local department of health gets a report of a confirmed case of the coronavirus in its community and gives that person a call. The contact tracer usually provides information on how to isolate and when to get treatment, then tries to figure out who else the person may have exposed.</p><p>"We ask who they've been in contact with in the 48 hours prior to symptom onset, or 2 days before the date of their positive test if they don't have symptoms," said <a href="https://case.edu/medicine/healthintegration/people/heidi-gullett" target="_blank">Dr. Heidi Gullett</a>, associate director of the Center for Community Health Integration at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and medical director of the Cuyahoga County Board of Health in Ohio.</p>
“You’ve Been Exposed”<p>After the case interview, contact tracers will get to work calling the folks who may have been exposed to the coronavirus by the person who tested positive.</p><p>"We give them recommendations about quarantining or isolating, getting tested, and what to do if they become sick. If they're not already sick, we still want them to self-quarantine so that they don't spread the disease to anyone else if they were to become sick," said Labus.</p><p>Generally, the contact tracer won't ask for additional contacts unless they happen to call someone who is sick or has a confirmed case of the virus. They will help ensure the contact has the resources they need to isolate themselves, if necessary. The contact tracer may continue to stay in touch with that person over the next 14 days.</p><p>"We follow the percentage of people that were contacts, then converted into being actual cases of the virus. It's an important marker to help us understand what kind of transmission happens in our community and how to control the virus," said Gullett.</p>
Why You Should Participate (and What Happens If You Don’t)<p>A <a href="https://www.thelancet.com/journals/laninf/article/PIIS1473-3099(20)30457-6/fulltext" target="_blank">Lancet study</a> from June 16, which looked at data from more than 40,000 people, found that COVID-19 transmission could be reduced by 64 percent through isolating those who have the coronavirus, quarantining their household, and contacting the people they may have exposed.</p><p>The combination strategy was significantly more effective than mass random testing or just isolating the sick person and members of their household.</p><p>However, contact tracing is only as effective as people's willingness to participate, and a small number of people who've contracted the coronavirus or were potentially exposed are reluctant to talk.</p><p>"Contact tracers have all been hung up on, cussed at, yelled at," said Gullet.</p><p>The hesitation to talk to contact tracers often stems from concerns over privacy — a serious issue in healthcare.</p>
- Anti-Racism Protests Are Not Driving Coronavirus Spikes, Data ... ›
- Cell Phone Tracking Analysis Shows Where Florida Springbreakers ... ›
NASA scientists say that warmer than average surface sea temperatures in the North Atlantic raise the concern for a more active hurricane season, as well as for wildfires in the Amazon thousands of miles away, according to Newsweek.
By Andrea Germanos
Oxfam International warned Thursday that up to 12,000 people could die each day by the end of the year as a result of hunger linked to the coronavirus pandemic—a daily death toll surpassing the daily mortality rate from Covid-19 itself.
- These 6 Men Have as Much Wealth as Half the World's Population ... ›
- Climate Change Forces 20 Million People to Flee Each Year, Oxfam ... ›
By Jun N. Aguirre
An oil spill on July 3 threatens a mangrove forest on the Philippine island of Guimaras, an area only just recovering from the country's largest spill in 2006.
- 15,000 Gallon Oil Spill Threatens River and Drinking Water in Native ... ›
- Mysterious Oil Spill on Massachusetts' Charles River Spurs Major ... ›
- Disastrous Russian Oil Spill Reaches Pristine Arctic Lake - EcoWatch ›