Fort Cherry holds vote over air-quality test proposals

Fort Cherry Junior/Senior High School

Fort Cherry school board Monday put off voting on a proposal from Range Resources to test the air quality near district schools as the company builds its third gas well site nearby.

Drilling at the Yonker well site, about three quarters of a mile from the disctict complex, is slated to begin next month. In a letter to school officials dated Friday, Range Resources proposed conducting air-quality monitoring on the campus “during all phases of development beginning with drilling through the final completion of the wells. Monitoring equipment installed at an agreed-upon location on the property would measure wind speed and direction, volatile organic compounds and fine particulate matter.”

The company told school officials it would pay for costs of the monitoring, and that third-party engineering firm AECOM would conduct the work.

School officials wanted more details about how the driller would conduct the testing. The board voted 7-0 to table the proposal until the next monthly meeting.

Board member Christopher Lauff said Range’s language was “very generic as far as what they’re trying to do,” and he wanted more information about the company’s plans regarding how the tests would be conducted.

“They said they’re going to be testing for volatile organic compounds – well, that’s a list of compounds that’s extremely long,” Lauff said.

Following the meeting, Superintendent Jill Jacoby said, “I don’t think we have any real specifics. I think that’s what’ll be coming in January.”

The monthly meeting coincided with a chorus concert, and district parent Cathy Lodge, of Robinson Township, was the only citizen to address the board. Before the vote to table the proposal, she urged members to hold off on a decision in order to allow public input.

“Please be aware that it is important that health be a part of the plan to monitor our air,” she said. She suggested an environmental group like Southwestern Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project should be involved in the monitoring “to ensure that the air testing is not one-sided.”

Range spokesman Matt Pitzarella said the district and state Department of Environmental Protection have previously conducted air-quality monitoring and found nearby natural gas operations to be safe.

“While the vast majority of residents and parents are supportive of this project we realize there are some who have concerns and we wish to work hard to alleviate their concerns through science and data. Hopefully, we can provide them with the same level of confidence we have in our work,” Pitzarella said in an email. “Previously the school had made a significant financial investment in a similar study, which in a peer-reviewed published report found that our work did not affect air quality or health, and rather than the district carry those costs again we are offering to do so at no cost to the school, which is also a valued lease holder.”

Cardno ChemRisk, a for-profit consulting company, took air samples for the district during various periods between November 2011 and January 2012 on school property and a nearby home after the first well had been drilled. A peer-reviewed study based on those samples found “the presence and operation of a hydraulic fracturing well pad in Washington County, PA, did not substantially affect local air concentrations of total and individual (volatile organic compounds).”

Southwestern Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project has critized the study, pointing out among other concerns it used as thresholds the safe levels of some chemicals for adults instead of children, according to a letter from the advocacy group Environmental Integrity Project to district officals dated Monday.

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