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A struggle with toxics in the Barnett Shale

By Megan Collins

A house in the country

I had always hoped for a nice, quiet, country setting where we could raise our children. Little did I know it would be the cause of unexplained illnesses and heartache.

In 2004, my husband Mike and I found this quiet little cul de sac in the small town of Clarke, Texas now known as DISH. At the time there were only two homes built, so we met with the builder and picked what we thought was the perfect lot. Just beyond the back fence there stood a single natural gas compressor station.

Mike and I never really gave it any thought. We just assumed the trees would block any unsightly compressors. We never thought about any emissions. After our home was built in 2005 it seemed just perfect, we couldn't be happier. After a few months, though, it seemed that every time we turned around they were building another compressor station to move the natural gas locked beneath us in the Barnett Shale.

The noise became a nuisance. And the smell of natural gas was always in the air. The gas companies sent out notices that they wanted to be “good neighbors.” They said they would work on the noise levels. They told us not to worry about any natural gas smells.

Little did we know, they would be the worst neighbors ever.

Click to view in a larger map. The center marker is DISH.

The worst neighbors ever

I started noticing issues with what I thought were allergies: watery eyes, itchy throat, and sneezing were a daily problem. Then in late 2006 I noticed that I was having trouble with my balance, sometimes staggering around and unable to stand with my feet together. My “allergy” and sinus issues were also increasing, so I just thought it was an equilibrium problem.

I began seeing an ear, nose and throat specialist. After months and months of tests, medications, and a sinus surgery, he recommended seeing a neurologist for my balance. I thought he had lost his mind, I surly did not have any neurological issues, and I was only 30 years old. Then out of nowhere I woke up one night sweating, nauseated, with a headache. I got out of bed to go into the restroom and blacked out.

After seeing several neurologists, I never received a clear diagnosis. We kept trying to figure out what in the world was going on. Then it seemed that my legs were always hurting, sore like I had been working out. It progressively got worse and the next thing I knew my whole body felt this way. I would wake up some nights and my neck would be in a spasm off to the right side, it was terribly painful. My neurologist diagnosed me with dystonia and ataxia, but where did this come from and why, he could not tell me.

I started multiple medications and physical therapy, which I still do twice a week. I honestly felt like I was going crazy. In June I woke up with blurry vision, went to work and experienced the worst headache. I couldn't stand and I couldn't speak even though I knew what I wanted to say. I was taken to the ER and admitted to the hospital. Again, I never had a clear diagnosis. The doctors suggested that it could be migraine or even a stroke.

One day last spring, out of the blue, I told my husband that I wanted to sell the house and move back to Fort Worth. I think the overwhelming medical problems just made me want to be closer to friends and family. So we put the house up for sale and about a month and a half later it sold. All I can say is we were so very lucky that the house sold when it did.

Poisoned by a neurotoxin?

In September, my boss gave me an article from the Fort Worth Star Telegram about Ambient Air Monitoring results. The article said that our Mayor of DISH hired an environmental consultant and they found a toxic soup of carcinogens and neurotoxins that were being emitted from the compressors. I had Mike contact the Mayor while I began researching the chemicals found. I was shocked when I discovered that Carbon Disulfide was a known neurotoxin.

It has been almost six months since we moved away. I am noticing that my balance is coming back. I am now able to stand with my feet together and walk in a straight-line heel to toe. I have not been able to do those tasks in over 2 and a half years. I recently had an appointment with a movement disorder neurologist scheduled, and she was amazed. It seems that all of the ataxia symptoms are gone, just not the dystonia.

Health is more important than gas

I am hoping to raise awareness about the dangerous health effects of these toxins. These gas companies need to clean up their acts. The health of citizens is much more important than natural gas being extracted from the Barnett Shale.

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