Backyard Talk
Andrew Morris

Pennsylvania residents suffering from water woes due to Fracking

By Andrew Morris : July 26, 2014 4:22 pm

Despite all the economic boom that fracking has brought to the state of Pennsylvania, residents have quickly seen the consequences the practice has had on the quality of living in the state. Residents of the state have learned this all too well after learning that most of the local well water in the area is unfit to drink as it has been found be contaminated by a number of toxic metals and other chemicals linked to both fracking and mining. In a radio interview with one local activist, host of the program Living on Earth, Steve Curwood spoke to local activist Reid Frazier of the Allegheny Front about the situation on the ground.

“The boxes are loaded with gallon jugs of spring water. This is his drinking water for the week. You’ve heard of a food drive? This is a water drive. It was organized a couple of years ago after neighbors in Fair’s community, called the Woodlands, say their water quality deteriorated. They blamed nearby drilling rigs for the water problems. Fair says he drilled a water well three years ago at his home. The water was perfect, he said. Then it started smelling bad like rotten eggs, and it looked like mud.”

“The company drilling the nearby gas wells, Rex Energy, initially provided Fair [John Fair of the Woodlands, Connoquenessing Township] and his neighbors with drinking water, but that ended in 2012, when the state said gas activities were not the cause of the water problems. The state’s Department of Environmental Protection found water had high levels of iron and manganese before drilling began, and the EPA agreed. Some in the Woodlands say they’ve had problems with their well water in the past: that it smelled bad, or that after rainstorms it became dirty. But they say it got worse when drilling commenced, and some of them, including Fair, are suing Rex because of it.”

The entire transcript for the program can be found here.

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Andrew Morris

PCB clean up North Carolina Set to Begin

By Andrew Morris : July 20, 2014 8:19 pm

In the next few weeks, environmental scientists will start the most extensive round yet of tests to determine the amount of clean up needed in the removal of the carcinogen-linked PCB in roughly 6 miles of stream beds in Lake Crabtree, North Carolina. The site of the contamination is downstream from the Ward Transformer Co. According to, part of the clean-up effort will include, “Bilingual public health outreach workers also will begin walking the banks of Lake Crabtree and Crabtree Creek to interview anglers who may be catching PCB-poisoned fish to feed their families.”

“You’re talking subsistence fishermen, and a lot of these are minority or Hispanic people,” said  Matthew Starr of the nonprofit Neuse River Foundation, which is working with the UNC Superfund Research Program to survey and educate residents fishing in these waters. “This is food for the table, for the family.”
The Environmental Protection Agency got serious about cleaning the Ward Transformer site in 2003, when it was added to the Superfund national priority list of hazardous waste sites.

“Environmental scientists expected they would handle about 100,000 cubic yards of poisoned soil, but in the end, they dug out four times that much. Workers kept digging as long as they found contamination. They had to stop when they reached bedrock, 29 feet below ground.

Some of the soil was hauled away to special landfills, but most of it had to be detoxified at the Ward site in a two-stage thermal process, which heated the soil and converted the PCBs to harmless gases. For three years, passers-by saw water vapor emitted from the thermal operation and mistook it for toxic smoke, or perhaps a plane crash at the nearby airport.

The clean, sterile soil was returned to the ground, shaped into a gently sloping, 8.7-acre mound, and topped with a one-foot layer of honest, organic topsoil that had to be trucked in. The topsoil is planted in grass and shrubs.”

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EPA’s Remedy for Darby Creek

By Jose Aguayo : July 17, 2014 11:34 am

The Lower Darby Creek Superfund Site in Darby Township, Pennsylvania is nearing a critical junction in its cleanup cycle. The Record of Decision (ROD), a technical document that delineates EPA’s chosen remediation method, will be released to the public soon. This is a welcome step given that EPA has been jugging the site with very little progress since its inclusion in the National Priorities List (NPL) in 2001.However, it is increasingly apparent that the ROD will suggest a particular kind of remedy that is not suitable for the site.

The site consists of two landfills – the Clearview Landfill and the Folcroft Landfill. Folcroft remains under evaluation and will be dealt with separately. Clearview and how to contain its waste are the subject of the ROD. In previous evaluations, EPA proposed and seemed to be pushing for the implementation of a non-traditional cap for the landfill. This non-traditional cap is known as an evapotranspiration (ET) cap and consists of a thick layer of soil covered by various forms of vegetation. The idea behind it is that rain water that falls over the landfill will be trapped in the soil and then soaked up by the plants to be used and evaporated into the surrounding air. In principle, this kind of mechanism is possible and the solution is sound. But this breaks down when you take into account various other factors.

An ET layer is not suitable for the Lower Darby Creek site because of the climate and geo-hydrology. This kind of cover prevents water infiltration in locations that possess greater levels of soil evaporation and plant transpiration (collectively termed evapotranspiration) than precipitation. Arid and semiarid climates such as that of the Midwest are suitable for this kind of cover. However, Darby Township receives 42.05 inches of rain every year, a figure almost twice as high as it average evapotranspiration level. In addition, the site is located on a floodplain that experiences a massive flooding event on average every 6-8 years.

All of these factors make an ET layer as the permanent cap for the Clearview Landfill an extremely inefficient and non-protective remedy. As the announcement of the ROD approaches, it is CHEJ’s hope that EPA takes the health and well-being of the residents surrounding the site as their top priority and decides against an ET layer.

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Andrew Morris

Elk River Spill Potentially more Toxic Than Previously Thought

By Andrew Morris : July 11, 2014 4:13 pm

While it has been over six months since the devastating spill of the toxic chemical 4-Methylcyclohexanemethanol or MCHM, a chemical in the process of coal production, a new study by federally funded research  from the University of Alabama shows that the chemical previously downplayed by the company Freedom Industries for its health risks has turned out to be more poisonous than previously believed.

Lead researcher Andrew J. Whelton, PH.D., “found it to be much more toxic to aquatic life than was reported by Eastman Chemical, the company that makes it. Whelton said he used exactly the same process to test the chemical that Eastman did — the same water chemistry, temperature, quality, and organisms — but found a drastically different result than what was reported on Eastman’s Material Safety Data Sheet for the chemical,” according to Think Progress.

“To be frank, [the drastic difference in results] could be for a number of reasons. It could be is that the composition of the crude MCHM they tested in 1998 was different than the crude MCHM [Eastman] sent us in 2014.”

Approximately 10,000 gallons of MCHM spilled into West Virginia’s Elk River on Jan. 9. Quickly after over 600 people checked themselves into local hospitals for a myriad of health problems such as rash, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and diarrhea.

“What is important is that the findings further demonstrate that additional work is needed to better understand the short- and long-term toxicity implications of this contaminated water,” Whelton told Think Progress. “Somebody else needs to replicate Eastman’s work, and if the study that someone else conducts turns out to show that crude MCHM is more toxic, then that calls into question the toxicity data was published that was used as a basis for public health response.”

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Keep America Energy Independent

By Lois : July 8, 2014 3:57 pm

These are my arguments for the direction our country must take to protect our citizen’s and secure our homeland. Natural gas extraction, exports, damages and lack of regulations have been front page news for several years.  What’s the answer, here are my thoughts but I welcome others to contribute their thoughts.

  • Natural gas is a part of the answer to our energy needs in this country. In fact, America is today energy independent if we keep what we harvest and not ship our energy resources overseas. It’s really that simple.
  • Our abundance of energy resources, if kept in the U.S., will provide affordable energy for America’s industries today and attract new industries tomorrow.
  • Exporting liquid natural gas according to the Energy Department’s own report will end up being worse from a greenhouse gas perspective to climate change than if China simply built a new power plant and burned its own coal supplies.
  • Exporting natural gas creates environmental and public health risks through gas industries “boom” to drill as many wells as possible with little regulations to make quick profits especially in the export markets which will purchase at five times the domestic rates.
  • Exporting Americas energy resources increases the country‘s security risks. American men and women fought and hundreds died in wars around oil. Let’s honor those who fought for America by not selling our energy and placing the country and its armed forces at risk again.  More than 600 Kuwaiti oil wells were set on fire by the Iraqi forces causing massive environmental and economic damage.
  • The only one who benefits from exports is the corporations making profits exporting our natural resources.

In fact, exporting our natural resources creates a different equation entirely. The overseas workforce is very cheap, in many cases not paying close to a living wage. If we provide an influx of new energy resources for countries that don’t even pay a living wage, why in the world would any corporation want to set up business in America? They have cheap labor and an abundance of energy which they don’t have today.

I want to take care of America and keep our energy —our gas —here so we can grow and prosper. It’s un-American to export energy sources when men and women have died in wars over oil.  It doesn’t change the climate crisis and doesn’t provide an incentive for new industries to set up business in America or existing ones to expand. Lastly, holding on our our gas and oil resources will slow down the drilling of new wells giving us time to explore the real environmental and health impacts from hydro-fracturing.

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