Blackout Case Study 6 – The Carr Family

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Phyllis Carr has lived on the same quiet, wooded road in rural Lake Lynn for much of her life. Her daughter Jeaney and her husband moved in next door to raise their four children. Phyllis will gladly and proudly say that even if the family doesn’t have a lot in the way of material wealth, they have riches in faith, family, and deep connections to the land and community.

But events of recent years have changed the lives of the Carrs so dramatically that they’re thinking of packing up and moving away. Although there was some coal mining and conventional gas drilling in the area before, the Lake Lynn community has been hit hard by the recent drilling boom. Particularly troubling has been the expansion of the Springhill Compressor Station, located on the same road as the Carr’s home.

Our research on gas wells and facilities in the area revealed plausible reasons why both gas wells and the compressor station could compromise air quality and cause related health problems. In addition, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) was aware when it reviewed the permit application for the Springhill compressor that it would emit formaldehyde, a known carcinogen with a range of short-term health effects—but green-lighted the project anyway based on a questionable emissions comparison.

The Carrs and their neighbors have filed many complaints about noise and odors with DEP, the National Response Center, and the local fire department and submitted statements to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). But to date, no official link to gas development activities has ever been made. It isn’t clear whether this has had to do with time and resource constraints, insufficient information and training provided to inspectors, minimal air testing at the site, or other factors.

The Carrs say the frequent odors remind them of paint thinner and chlorine. The entire family has developed health symptoms, including fatigue, congestion, sore throats, coughs, headaches, and skin rashes. Over time, the problems have become increasingly serious. Jeaney often suffers muscle weakness, forgetfulness, and loss of sense of smell. Her three sons have had frequent coughs, nosebleeds, and tremors, and sometimes difficulty concentrating on schoolwork. One of the family dogs would sometimes cough and get a runny nose when in the yard; another recently died of a hemorrhage.

The Carrs have visited doctors in Pennsylvania and West Virginia on a long quest for answers about the pollutants to which they’ve been exposed. They’ve spoken out at town, state, and national oil and gas hearings. Together with neighbors having similar experiences, they formed a group to pressure local officials and the compressor station operator to take steps to reduce odors, noise, and emissions. Last year, a donor provided an air filter through the Southwest PA Environmental Health Project, and Jeaney and her children say they feel better when they stay indoors.