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Health effects of petrochemical industry discussed

WHEELING — An environmentalist and a physician who spoke in Wheeling Tuesday paint a dire picture of health impacts of the petrochemical industry, including oil and gas fracking and ethane cracker plants.

Matthew Mehalik, executive director of the Breathe Collaborative in Pittsburgh, and Dr. Ned Ketyer, a pediatrician from Washington County, Pa., addressed a large audience at Lunch With Books at the Ohio County Public Library.

Wheeling is in the bullseye for harmful effects from the petrochemical industry, Ketyer said, with fracking well pads expanding greatly and compressor stations growing rapidly in size and number.

Citing potential dangers of the industry, they said an ethane cracker plant now under construction in Monaca, and proposed cracker plants in Belmont and Wood counties are expected to create significant negative health care impacts.

For example, Mehalik said experts predict health care costs in Ohio County would increase $1.3 to $3.1 million annually, or between $46 million and 94 million over 30 years, as a result of the three plants.

He said 30-year costs nationally are projected at btween $3.6 billion and 8.4 billion.

Points made by Mehalik included:

¯ “The fingerprint of the petrochemical industry is already huge and will be getting bigger.” In Pennsylvania, 11,682 unconventional wells have been drilled and 13,656 violations have been reported, he said. Data for West Virginia was not available.

¯ “The industry uses a piecemeal approach; this makes it tough for communities.” Companies seek approval for “one little thing” after another, going around regulatory restrictions.

¯ “The pollution impacts from this industry are and will be substantial.”

¯ “The climate change implications for development of this industry are disastrous.” Impacts are likely to exist for 50 to 60 years.

¯ “There will be significant negative health care impacts from this industry.”

¯ “Pennsylvania residents are paying and will pay a heavy financial price for aligning with the petrochemical industry.” For instance, Mehalik said Royal Dutch Shell has been given $1.65 billion in tax forgiveness during 25 years in Pennsylvania for its cracker plant. Property values decrease, while the social costs of carbon emissions increase.

¯ Job projections for the industry anticipate mostly out-of-state and temporary workers, with other workers displaced by automation.

¯ “The risks to life and property are high.” He said a pipeline in Beaver County blew up within a day of becoming operational.

Ketyer, who serves as a consultant for SWPA Environmental Health Project, said living near fracking sites raises risks for pregnant women and, in general, increases problems with asthma, cancer and rashes. Especially vulnerable are pregnant women and fetuses, infants and children, the elderly, the poor, people with pre-existing medical conditions, industry workers, outdoor workers and first responders.

Proximity to fracking can result in sleep disruption, headaches, throat irritation, stress and anxiety, coughing, shortness of breath, sinus problems, fatigue, nausea and wheezing, the physician said. Fracking also produces noise pollution and light pollution.

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