Skip to comments.Sick From Fracking? Doctors, Patients Seek Answers
Posted on 05/16/2012 3:05:20 AM PDT by Ultra Sonic 007
Kay Allen had just started work, and everything seemed quiet at the Cornerstone Care community health clinic in Burgettstown, Pa. But things didn't stay quiet for long.
"All the girls, they were yelling at me in the back, 'You gotta come out here quick. You gotta come out here quick,' " said Allen, 59, a nurse from Weirton, W.Va.
Allen rushed out front and knew right away what all the yelling was about. The whole place reeked like someone had spilled a giant bottle of nail polish remover.
"I told everybody to get outside and get fresh air. So we went outside. And Aggie said, 'Kay, I'm going to be sick.' But before I get in, to get something for her to throw up in, she had to go over the railing," she said.
Nothing like this had ever happened in the 20 years that Allen has been at the clinic. After about 45 minutes, she thought the coast was clear and took everyone back inside.
"It was fine. But the next thing you know, they're calling me again. There was another gust. Well, the one girl, Miranda, she was sitting at the registration place, and you could tell she'd had too much of it. And Miranda got overcome by that and she passed out," she said.
'It's The Unknown I Think That's The Scariest Thing'
This sort of thing has been happening for weeks. Mysterious gusts of fumes keep wafting through the clinic.
In fact, just the day before being interviewed by NPR, Allen suddenly felt like she had been engulfed by one of these big invisible bubbles.
"And all of a sudden your tongue gets this metal taste on it. And it feels like it's enlarging, and it just feels like you're not getting enough air in, because your throat gets real 'burn-y.' And the next thing I know, I ... passed out," Allen said.
Half a dozen of Allen's co-workers stopped coming in. One old-timer quit. No one can figure out what's going on. For doctors and nurses used to taking care of sick people, it's unnerving to suddenly be the patients.
"It's the unknown I think that's the scariest thing," she said.
Richard Rinehart, who runs the rural clinic, can't help but wonder whether the natural gas drilling going on all around the area may have something to do with what's been happening.
"I lay in bed at night thinking all kinds of theories. Is something coming through the air from some process that they're using? I know they use a lot of chemicals and so forth. Certainly that could be a culprit. We're wondering, Is something coming through the ground?" Rinehart said, noting that he'd just noticed a new drill on a hill overlooking the back of the clinic.
Now, no one knows whether the gas drilling has anything to do with the problems at the clinic. It could easily turn out to be something completely unrelated. There's a smelting plant down the road and old coal mines everywhere.
"Anything could be possible, and we just are trying to get to the root of it," he said.
Mysterious Symptoms, Lots Of Questions
People living near gas well drilling around the country are reporting similar problems, plus headaches, rashes, wheezing, aches and pains and other symptoms.
Doctors like Julie DeRosa, who works at Cornerstone, aren't sure how to help people with these mysterious symptoms.
"I don't want to ignore symptoms that may be clues to a serious condition. I also don't want to order a lot of unnecessary tests. I don't want to feed any kind of hysteria," DeRosa said.
To try to figure out what's going on, the clinic called the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, which is investigating. It also started testing the air for chemicals, monitoring wind direction around the clinic and keeping diaries of everyone's symptoms. In addition, the clinic contacted Raina Rippel, project director for the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project.
The local nonprofit was set up recently to help people in this kind of situation. Her team tested tap water from inside a men's room and from a stream out back.
Rippel says she knows people in the area have a lot of questions: "Is my water fit to drink? Is the air fit to breathe? Am I going to suffer long-term health impacts from this?"
Connecting Experts In Search Of Answers
To try to answer these questions, her project is connecting doctors and patients with toxicologists, occupational health doctors, environmental scientists and other experts.
"People go from physician to physician, because 'nobody seemed to be able to treat this awful rash that I have,' or 'nobody seemed to be able to deal with my gastrointestinal pain that I have.' And so they go from place to place, trying to find someone who can do that," said David Brown, a toxicologist who helped set up the project.
The project is also starting to educate doctors about what kinds of tests they can try and what kinds of advice to give. In addition, a nurse practitioner visits and counsels people who are sick.
Dr. Sean Porbin, a private doctor who advises the project, gives the project's nurse practitioner advice when she needs it. But Porbin is skeptical that many people are getting sick from the drilling, which is commonly called "fracking." There are about 5,000 new wells in Pennsylvania.
"If it's true, you'd expect people dropping all over the place based on the amount of fracking that's going on here. You would look around and see people dropping like flies. It's not the case. I don't see anybody affected. And it's not for a lack of looking," he said.
Porbin, who like a lot of people in the area has leased some of his land for drilling, wants to make sure no one's missing more mundane explanations like Lyme disease, sinus infections and migraines.
"We have an old saying in medicine: When you hear hoof beats, you don't think zebras you think horses," he said.
Lots Of Anecdotes, Little Evidence
The natural gas industry says there's no evidence the drilling is causing health problems.
Public health experts say the only way anyone is going to really know whether the drilling is making people sick is to do some big studies.
"There's a lot of anecdotal evidence out there. And so a well-conducted study looking at a number of communities could help us better understand if there's an impact, what its magnitude [is], how we should avoid having that impact if there is one," said Christopher J. Portier, director of the National Center for Environmental Health and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.
In the meantime, patients and doctors don't have a lot of options. In western Pennsylvania, a lot of them are referred to Charles Werntz at West Virginia University. Werntz, an occupational medicine specialist, is used to dealing with chemical exposures. Lately, he's seeing more people who live near the drilling.
But for now, he says he can't really do much more than offer basic advice: Drink bottled water, air out the house, leave your shoes outside. If it's still too bad, move if possible.
"It is frustrating. As a physician, I like it when somebody can come to me with a problem and I can help them solve the problem. Whether it's through a specific treatment or, you know, whatever. And this is frustrating, because in this case, the treatment is to get away from the exposure. And that's hard to do," Werntz said.
Back at Cornerstone, Rinehart just wants to get back to taking care of patients.
"We are in the business of trying to improve and maintain the public's health here. And now we are in the throes of it. And we're trying not to point fingers," Rinehart said.
The next day, people got sick again, and the clinic had to be evacuated once more. So they've moved the clinic to temporary offices until someone figures out what's going on.
You don't suppose it's actually nail polish remover? (acetone)
Hysteria masquerading as journalism.
Talk about a misleading headline. No bias here. Fortunately, for those curious enough to read the article, there is no evidence.
NPR is in full campaign mode. Fuller than normal.
Note, too, the article confuses drilling (cutting the wellbore) with fracking (a different process in which the already drilled wellbore is fractured at depth by using fluid and a proppant--usually sand--to make fractures and shove the proppant in to hold them open).
I hope they find the problem, but I'd look in the clinic basement and storage areas of the clinic for leaking chemicals rather than waste my time blaming a drilling rig.
Maybe someone has a drug lab nearby and is looking to blame the oil and gas inductry.
So why is fracking assumed in NPRs scary headline?
” Fortunately, for those curious enough to read the article, there is no evidence. “
[With apologies to Voltaire]
If harm from fracking did not exist, it would be necessary for trial lawyers to invent it...
I remember when microwave ovens were new and people were suing because they had gotten cancer or impotence or something else from them. I suspect any new technology is subject to this hysteria.
Hey, I know, let’s blame fracking with no evidence at all. Nonsense Public Radio.
What utter nonsense. This reporter is a novelist, not a reporter.
I worked the Jonah and Mesa gas fieldsin Wyoming on at pulling unit for 3 years and the fracs for 2 years and never missed a days work.
Something tells me this is BS frenzy to create fear
Besides, you get used to the acetone. I was a paint room foreman for years and we went through 55 gallon drums of the stuff.
Start looking around for a meth-lab. Could be someone dumped/is dumping waste. Just a thought.
” Hey, I know, lets blame fracking with no evidence at all. Nonsense Public Radio. “
Following the sterling example of their favorite quintissential Imperial Bureaucracy -
The EPA has testified before Congressional Committees that there is no scientific evidence to back up their claims that fracking is harmful — but they’re gonna regulate it out of existence anyway...
Because NPR is run by leftist. Leftists are liars.
Leftists also love increasing government power.
Leftists use their habit of lying to create panic over the appearance of a crisis (real or fabricated). Leftists then lie about the nature of the crisis, and the ability to solve it by increasing government power. Eventually the crisis goes away (if it was even real in the first place), but the increased government power remains.
NEVER trust a leftist.
THe Dems Are trying to get their buddies, the trial lawyers a good gig here
I googled acetone as a fracking agent and came up with some articles that say its used for such. Of course I bow to your knowledge but are the articles wrong?
However, this isn’t new technology. We have been fracking successfully for 60 years. Only the hysteria is new.
they have a leak in the basement--in a storage area--or somewhere else where chemicals are stored in the building or a nearby building (more uses for acetone in biology than oil well drilling).
...someone is dumping chemicals into the sewers and the fumes are backing up into the building...
...there is a chemical dump nearby leaking (Love Canal stuff)
...or there is a drug lab in the neighborhood.
Just my guesses.
I have never been on a drilling location (and I have worked on hundreds of them) where acetone was used.
Have they checked their cupboards for spilled acetone??
It's just the latest lib meme, especially for stories in the NE or PA where this is a relatively new phenomenon. NPR and the other libs can't stand that this could mean true energy independence in the US because that is contrary to an older meme on "the end of oil". It also helps them assuage their aesthetic sensibilities on driving dorky-looking hybrids.
It may be used in fracks (news to me), but I know it isn’t used in drilling. Can you provide links to your information? I’m always willing to learn more. I’d rather get it right.
Hysteria masquerading as journalism.This article wins a Goebbels Journalism Award.
We’ve never used it on a frac job and I can’t think of any reason why one would.
Ding ding ding!
For the same reason every firearm is an "assault weapon"
In my lifetime,I have spent many an hour getting my nails and hair done -which involve some of the nastiest fumes on the planet.
Not once have I ever gotten sick from the fumes-and that was before they had exhaust fans or any of that kind of stuff....wasn’t a pleasant smell but that’s about it.
I’m going with the meth lab theory.
I once had a boss who was a raging hypochondriac. When his obnoxiousness would become too much to bear, another employee and I would remark on how he was "looking pale," and asking him if he felt OK.
It'd usually take about an hour for him to announce he was going home because he "felt lousy."
That's just rotten! (laughing, I love it!)
I checked several of the articles and they do mention acetone but they are all of the anti fracking type. Nothing from a source not involved in trying to stop fracking. From what I read the oil companies don’t disclose what they use in their fracking fluid. The EPA just issued a new ruling that says the drillers will have to disclose that information after a well is fracked so I guess we will all know soon enough.
In the liberal world, there is no need for evidence. This has been the method of journalistic ambush for decades: "find someone sick, write a negative story about the latest bogeyman". This was the hallmark of "60 Minutes" as early as the 60's. You can't count the number of "intellectuals" out there with their radios burned into NPR who hear only snippets of the story and then tell all their liberal friends how horrible fracking has now been proved to be.
Those of us who are living in areas in which there is a lot of gas drilling have NOT been able to find out what’s in the fracking fluid. Actually I think they use all kinds of chemicals and just won’t disclose the ingredients. That being said, here in Bradford County PA we have had several incidents of water being tainted BUT that was mostly due to the original drilling, not the fracking. They called it “gas migration” or something like that. I think Chesapeake has fixed the problem as there haven’t been anymore problems lately. That we know of, that is. We did have one very bad accident in LeRoy PA where the well head didn’t hold or had some type of problem and hundreds of thousands of gallons of fracking fluid was released into the local area and creek. So far the environmental damage has been little. At least as far as we know. I hate to keep saying this but these gas companies have a tendency NOT to release any info that makes them look bad. I have a well about a mile from my home. It has not been fracked yet because there isn’t a gas pipeline in this area but is in the process of being built. SO....we shall see how that goes. Right now we are in sort of a lull in gas drilling. They’ve picked up and moved to western PA and Ohio since wet gas in worth more than the dry gas. They are still drilling here but not at the pace it was a few months ago. I am happy not to have to fight the truck traffic! They will be back though!!!! I am all for gas drilling BUT I also want the gas companies to be honest. Is that too much to ask?
Thats a big frac any details?
Doctors and patients seek answers.
Lawyers are waiting in the starting blocks.
Sometimes, whenever I see a rainbow in the sky I can't help but wonder if there's a pot of gold at the end of it.
Had a mapping job to do in PA a while ago and saw multiple drill sites on the aerial imagery; a support staging area an acre or two in size was lined with with an impermeable engineering membrane.
Richard Rinehart, who runs the rural clinic, can’t help but wonder whether the natural gas drilling going on all around the area may have something to do with what’s been happening.
I can’t help wondering if it isn’t aliens
I can’t help wondering if it isn’t Obama.
I can’t help wondering if it isn’t a bunch of tree huggers
I can’t help wondering if it isn’t just plain old hysteria.
Add any you wish.
Until an investigation is completed it was IRRESPONSIBLE for a news agency to report one man wild guess........
No names, places, dates, nothing. Yet, the NPRbots will accept this as the gospel truth.
Only by the ignorante. Drilling is not fracking. Hydraulic fracturing only begins after the drilling is done.
Fracking is only slang for Hydraulic Fracturing.
Only by the ignorant. Drilling is not fracking. Hydraulic fracturing only begins after the drilling is done.
Fracking is only slang for Hydraulic Fracturing.
Here's one from a frac in Greene Cty, PA :
No info on PSI w/that one, but looks like ~10 pumpers.
If young again, I'd go back to the patch.
Was a mudlogger awhile at the tail end of the 70s,
then drove a sand truck for BigRed in NW PA for a year in early 80s.
Good memories .. ears still ringing and hangover flashbacks on occasion ;-)
Wouldn't trade memories for nuttin' !
Those people are still around. I get emails from one of them warning in shrill tones of doom that the microwave is killing us all. Thee are women (mostly) who will refuse a cup of tea if the water was heated in one.
Can you link an article that actually shows it used in hydraulic fracturing? I searched "acetone as a fracking agent". None of the articles I read actually substantiated that claim, only used the words somewhere in the article but not in that phrase.
On the public listing of hydraulic fluids, I have not seen it listed.
Speaking of hysteria, what happened to brain cancer caused by those evil cell phones that only evil business men could afford to use in the beginning.
Now that every kid has one, and the freeloaders are getting them on the tax payers dime, there is no harm and no radiation coming from them.
Avg. water table is ~50-100' down.
Avg. frac depth in PA, below impermeable shield rock, is usually => ~1,000 ft down.
Chances of fracking causing groundwater contamination are about 0.
That doesn't rule out foul-ups up top, but most of the site bosses are (rightly) nazis about keepin' the sh!t together.
Smart money will always bet on hysteria/agendas behind unicorn farts like this article.
I found 324 wells in Bradford County, PA listed in the Fluid Disclosure registry (last link above). The chemicals are listed and their maximum concentrations used by well.
Here is one. Like I said, all the articles that list acetone are of the anti fracking variety. I suspect they all got their information from the same primary source and I don’t know what agency or media source that is. One example should suffice since they are all basically parroting the original source.