Skip to content

Shale Gas Drilling Makes People Sick in More Ways Than One

May 8, 2012

Pain is escalating in shale drilling areas across Pennsylvania, from southwest to northeast, but at least one reporter is revealing the symptoms Pennsylvania doctors are finding themselves unable to treat in shale country. Susan Phillips’ report, “A Link Between Heavy Drilling and Illness? Doctors Search for Solid Answers,” is powerful and disturbing. Phillips reports on both the symptoms — face lesions, headaches, nausea — residents in heavy drilling areas are suffering, and on the lab results showing residents may be exposed to benzene, toluene, or other substances. She also reveals doctors’ frustration with their inability to successfully treat their patients living in the gaslands.

Phillips’ report centers on the village of Rae in southwestern Pennsylvania, in Washington County:

Rae is sur­rounded by nat­ural gas wells. Seven are within less than a mile…  Edna Moten is one of [Dr. Amy Pare’s patients]. She’s 90 years old and has lived in her one-story clap­board house for more than 50 years.

Inside [Edna’s home], an over­whelm­ing chem­i­cal smell hits you as soon as you step in the front door. Imme­di­ately it makes me feel dizzy, my head aches, and I feel nauseous.

Doc­tor Pare is here because she’s wor­ried about Moten’s drink­ing water.

“Now are they pro­vid­ing you with water now, or no?” asks Dr. Pare. The ‘they’ is one of the gas com­pa­nies. Edna says they’re not giv­ing her water. But she is get­ting clean water deliv­ered from a donor…

“We’re hav­ing big prob­lems because the water’s bad,” said Moten. “We just been bom­barded from all this time.”

Mys­tery Lesions

Doc­tor Pare first met Edna Moten six years ago. Moten came to her because she had skin lesions. They were hard and thick, and some­times they looked like boils.

Wait a minute. Stop the presses.

In spring 2009, one of the first times I spoke in public about gas drilling and health, a union organizer urgently asked me from the back of the room, “Can you tell me why my workers who work in the gas industry are getting lesions on their skin?”

Butler County residents told me that the man who died in early February in the Woodlands area had lesions, kind of like boils, on his skin when he died and that he had convulsions before he died. I have not been able to independently confirm that or to speak with his widow or doctor. The Woodlands is the Connoquenessing Township area of Butler County (western PA), where a dozen families are currently relying on scant, contaminated and failing water supplies (as tiny Protecting Our Waters does our best to supply them with safe drinking water through “Water LOVE,” our emergency water replacement fund). After shale gas drilling began, Woodlands residents first reported their water becoming foul, with associated vomiting, in January 2011.

Susquehanna County researcher Rebecca Roter told me months ago that an undercover reporter who worked at a gas drilling site in Susquehanna County (northeastern PA) found he got lesions, “like boils” on his skin which dissapated during his weeks off and reappeared during his weeks on the job.

Fish are turning up with mysterious lesions on their skin in the Susquehanna River right now. A retired physician who is also a fisherman reported that 3 or four out of every ten smallmouth bass in the river right now have black lesions on their skin, particularly in an area that accepted Marcellus Shale gas drilling waste into the river for years. He reported that it looks like it could be melanoma, but it’s not clear whether it is. Dr. Pare told Susan Phillips something quite similar about the strange lesions on human skin in the town of Rae, in Washington County (southwestern PA). Pathologists are stumped.

The lesions and illnesses threatening to wipe out fish populations in the Susquehanna River, causing the PA Fish and Boat Commission to ask that the river be declared “impaired,” may not be caused by the same exact chemicals or contaminants which appear to be causing human skin lesions in heavy shale gas drilling areas from the northwest (Erie), southwest (Washington County), west (Butler County) to northeastern Pennsylvania (Susquehanna County). But it sure makes it  obvious we are allowing shale gas drillers to conduct a large-scale industrial experiement in Pennsylvania right now. We should stop the experiment and wait a decade, or a generation, until the results from these first 5,000 Marcellus wells perforating and poisoning PA are assessed. Makes you want to sit up and block some trucks, doesn’t it?

Phillips reports:

But what she [Dr. Pare] found really puz­zling was that it wasn’t just Edna Moten. A bunch of peo­ple in the area were show­ing up with sim­i­lar symp­toms, includ­ing Moten’s daugh­ters and neighbors.

“It just didn’t make sense,” said Pare.  “Why would you have clus­ters of peo­ple with inflam­ma­tory lesions on their face? So then when you would ask them, do you work in the same plant, what do you have in com­mon? It was that they live near gas drilling areas.

Read the full story, lab results and all, here.

Look for Part 2, “Exodus From PA Shale Drilling Areas,” shortly.

%d bloggers like this: