Pennsylvania is the 2nd largest gas and coal producing state in the country, as well as home to other industries like steelmaking, limestone production, plastics, and garbage incineration. While residents and businesses depend on these activities for energy, construction, and to process waste, economics remains the main driver. For many of these facilities, turning a profit equals the human cost of mortality and morbidity, environmental damage, and global warming. We all suffer from dependence on fossil fuels, but in PSR PA's Community Voices series, we share the stories of Pennsylvanians who live in close proximity to the toxic industries we rely on, and whose health and wellbeing are sacrificed in a corporate-led drive for more.
Community Voices includes stories from Pennsylvanians like Kaleb and Rebecca Cardin, who moved to rural PA for the space and quiet to allow Caleb to heal from his deployment-related PTS. However, shortly after moving their family of five into their Montrose home, renewed activity began on the unconventional well across the street, leading to endless noise and traffic, air pollution, water contamination, and radioactive dirt on the road where their children wait for the school bus. On the other side of the state, Lois Bower-Bjornson details the mysterious bloody noses and rashes that plagued her kids in the years after fracking landmen proliferated across Washington County. One county over, Jim Isaac laments how his hopes for potential employment became fear for his health as the Shell Polymers Monaca began its operations of single use plastic production, exceeding emissions limits even before operations began.
While some residents sound alarms over new gas infrastructure, other communities have felt the impact of fossil fuel dependence for generations. Melanie Meade of Clairton chronicles the early deaths and respiratory issues that plagued her neighbors and her family, who have lived and worked alongside US Steel’s Coke Works. Bette Billiot and Roishetta Ozane, guests from Louisiana, underscore how an ongoing history of racism and classism mean that low income communities of color are targeted for harmful infrastructure like the petrochemical buildout near them; their indictments are echoed by Will Jones and Kearni Warren of Chester, who point out the same exploitation in their community which has been impacted for decades by garbage incineration and is now targeted for a proposed liquified gas terminal. In Philadelphia, where pre-WWII gas pipes run under hundreds of miles of streets, Melissa Ostroff recounts how the FLIR camera she uses to find illegal emissions from mostly rural infrastructure allowed her to discover methane leaks from cracking pipes outside her front door and in her own basement that without the specialized equipment, she - and Philadelphia Gas Works, who doesn’t use one - never would have seen.
Like Melissa, PSR PA also is equipped with a FLIR, or Forward Looking InfraRed camera, which field scientist and certified thermographer Christina DiGiulio uses to capture the startling amount of emissions coming from various infrastructure in the region. Over the next months we will share residents’ first hand stories paired with FLIR OGI video so you can see the impact on the air quality where these individuals live, work and play.
PSR PA is committed to improving the health of Pennsylvanians one community at a time, and we hope in creating this resource for impacted communities and legislators, we can shine a light on the ways fossil fuel infrastructure costs our state far more than it profits us. Indeed, when we take our health, future, and environment into account, our long-term dependence on fossil fuels only makes sense for the monied interests of those who suppress its harmful consequences and prevent our state from transitioning to more sustainable and healthier energy, waste, and manufacturing systems.
Thank you to all those who were willing to share the stories, the guides who tramped the woods with us and to the local organizations that put us in contact with your residents.