Children at risk near drilling


The Department of Environmental Protection has before it a permit application for five new wells on the Yonkers well pad in McDonald. If approved, this would bring the total number of wells within 1 mile of the Fort Cherry school campus to 24. It is not too late for the DEP to recognize the risk these wells pose to students at the K-12 school campus. The Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project would particularly like to draw attention to a flawed study conducted by a private consulting firm, which has been used to defend additional wells.

The consulting firm’s study concluded that the emissions produced by the hydrofracking and flaring stages of well development are not great enough to cause harm. This conclusion is incorrect. Here’s why:

1) The report does not account for the emissions which will be released while the wells are producing, despite research that has shown that producing wells continue to emit volitale organic compounds and other dangerous chemicals.

2) Production emissions will occur at three well pads simultaneously, thus can produce three times the air contaminants that were detected in the Fort Cherry study.

3) While some exposure concentrations may be understood individually, emissions are produced as a complex mixture whose combined toxicity is not known. The study does not account for the full spectrum of exposures that will be experienced at the school.

4) The toxic actions and effects of many chemicals, particularly combinations of chemicals, are not fully understood with respect to children. Many safety levels are based on healthy adult worker populations, not elementary school children.

5) Exposures from nearby sites do not occur at a constant rate over a 24-hour period. Spikes in exposures within a 24-hour period will most certainly increase risk of short-term health effects. There is irrefutable evidence that such spikes occur.

6) A growing number of studies conducted by researchers at major research universities are finding associations between proximity to, or density of, horizontal drilling wells and health impacts in the neurological and respiratory systems, among others.

Nurse practitioners, physicians, and a public health toxicologist with the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project have evaluated environmental exposures and health impacts in nearly 200 residents in this area, beginning in 2012. There is no question in our minds that children going to school in such close proximity to drilling, fracking, and producing gas wells are being put at risk. We urge local and school officials, as well as the DEP, to consider whether this is a risk worth taking. Our children can’t opt out of school. They must show up every day and breathe the air, and we as adults, parents and regulators must do our utmost to protect them.

Raina Rippel


Rippel is the director of the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project.