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  • Writer's pictureEnvironmental Health Project

Personal Narrative: Wayne Rossiter

Whether playing with his two daughters, visiting and working in waterways, or conducting research, Wayne Rossiter is always outside. As an associate professor of biology at Waynesburg University, Wayne is an ecologist who is passionate about the well-being of the environment. Living in Greene County, however, has opened Wayne’s eyes to the effects of fracking on both the environment and public health.

Before moving to Greene County in 2012, Wayne viewed the energy industry favorably. In the past 7 years, though, he’s developed a bias: after living in the shadows of the 1,400 gas wells in his county, Wayne has seen the negative effects of shale gas development firsthand. His research has opened his eyes, as well. He’s spent time digging through data from the EPA and PA DEP websites (water quality reports, public drinking water data, emissions reports, etc.).

Viewing reports for public drinking and wastewater treatment facilities has given Wayne a frightening picture of what’s going on in Greene County. Many of these facilities are routinely in violation of high concentrations of toxins. The Southwestern PA Water Authority (SWPAWA) experienced 17 quarters between 2011 and 2015 in which it was over the suggested health guideline for bromodichloromethane, a known carcinogen. In 2015, concentrations of this toxin in SWPAWA water were nearly 36 times higher than the suggested health guideline and nearly 4 times higher than the state average. What scares Wayne even more is that many of the facilities would rather face an extra fine than alert the public of these violations.

Though fracking isn’t the sole contributor, Wayne knows that it has a huge impact on the health of those in Greene County. Most residents in Greene live, work, and play less than half a mile from a gas well, and since this development has begun, health problems have multiplied. Wayne has found that among his neighbors, random nosebleeds have become commonplace, and most people have allergy-like symptoms. Residents have even taken to drinking bottled water instead of water from their tap. Animals aren’t immune to these health effects, either. Wayne’s own dog lost all of its hair, and other dogs have experienced reproductive issues.

When asked what it’s like living in Greene County, Wayne compared it to a “major military war.” When flaring occur, residents are given no warning before the whole sky lights up and they hear sounds like a jet engine — and there’s no telling what the invisible effects are from flaring emissions. Wayne also laments the toll gas well traffic has taken on the local rural roads. Streets have collapsed, and the oil and gas companies have closed bridges with no prior notice.

Wayne worries what the effects of fracking will be on his two daughters. While he might not live to see the long-term effects of shale gas development, his children will. His family would love to get fresh air in the house on hot summer days, but they don’t dare open the windows. Wayne has installed air purifiers in his home, and though he sees low, safe readings in his daughters’ rooms, one step outside his front door makes these numbers skyrocket.

Though Wayne works as a scientist, he’s a citizen first. As a Greene County resident, he’s participated in public meetings and tried to rally support around health awareness by informing his neighbors of the dangers of fracking emissions. Through his efforts, a few Greene County households have even refused to sign over their mineral rights.

While he doesn’t consider himself a politically active person, Wayne knows the importance of networking through public groups. He’s created Friends of Greene County Water, a public forum where people can come together to discuss the effects of fracking. Wayne is also a member of the Greene County chapter of the Izaak Walton League of America, an organization devoted to protecting the environment.

Wayne has also tried to get the support of his elected officials. From the township to the state level, Wayne has sent letters to all of his representatives, explaining what he’s found in his research, as well as providing possible solutions to lessen the impact of fracking. But he received a response to only one letter, with Senator Pat Toomey simply thanking him for reaching out.

Wayne believes a fracking ban will never happen, but he’s proposed smart, realistic solutions to protect public health. He cites a study that found that the closer people live to shale gas development the more likely they are to experience health symptoms, such as throat irritation, sinus problems, and severe headaches. So he recommends greater setback distances between shale gas facilities and homes and schools.

Wayne thinks that better handling of radioactive “residual waste,” by processing it through industrial wastewater treatment facilities would be ideal, too. He worries that an industry that is “sloppy and careless at times” will continue to put public health at risk. Pennsylvania has seen more violations than wells, and Wayne thinks that by not demanding better from the oil and gas industry, “we are playing Russian roulette with our children’s wellbeing.”

Wayne also wonders why the money from the thousands of fracking violations doesn’t go towards a better cause, such as hospital-grade air filtration systems in schools. Some kind of warning before flaring occurs would be an improvement, as well. Wayne stresses the need for protection and accountability from the oil and gas companies.

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