Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Beaver County Under Siege

By Roni Kampmeyer

A distressing stage is being set in Southern Beaver County as it becomes a major target for oil and gas development.  This area is already enduring the health and environmental impacts from several corporate polluters.  The American Lung Association ranks Beaver County as 19th in the nation for air pollution.  The region’s mortality rate is 27 percent higher than the nation’s average.

The first of the polluters is the world’s first nuclear power plant originally built in 1959 and rebuilt in 1972.  This aging nuclear power plant has had multiple recent incidents which make one wonder if its age is showing or if there is some sort of operator negligence or neglect.  Industry regulators who once said that the life span of a nuclear power plant was forty (40) years are now claiming the life can be up to 100 years.  Beaver Valley Unit 1 Nuclear Power Plant’s license has been extended to 2036.

Right next door to the nuclear plant is the fifth largest coal combustion plant in the country, Bruce Mansfield, which also ranks as the nation’s eighth highest producer of greenhouse gases.   Every producer of energy has to have a disposal site and Bruce Mansfield has the nation’s largest high hazard earthen dam and coal ash impoundment just seven (7) miles west of the plant.  It is currently operating under a Federal Consent Decree to correct the leaking impoundment and the contamination caused by it.  Both Unit 1 and Bruce Mansfield are owned by First Energy, LLC.

AES Power Plant, Wheaton Power Plant, Armstrong World Industries and Horsehead Zinc Plant round off the major contributors to Beaver County’s pollution and mortality rankings.  It is, however, the shear sight of thumper truck caravans and helicopters transporting seismic testing equipment by land and over head on a daily basis that brings visions of an invasion to an area with a dozen or more gas wells with many more on the way.  With the pipeline already in place and property acquisition and demolition in process another captain of industry, Shell, has its sights set on building a Cracker Plant on the existing Horsehead site.

A study, released by the Center for Healthy Environments and Communities at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health, found that residents living in southwestern Pennsylvania, have a “significantly higher than acceptable risk” of getting cancer from air toxins.  Specific cancer risk rates for Beaver County were not immediately available.  The report did say Shell’s proposed $2.5 billion petrochemical plant could raise cancer risk in the area because it will emit large quantities of formaldehyde and acetaldehyde, both considered “probable human carcinogens” by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

In spite of the report’s findings, State Representative Christiana and State Senator Vogel are deeply entrenched in these dealings.  Senator Vogel’s farm is home to a gas well.  The Beaver County Commissioners are swelled with hopes of economic stimulus from all this activity.  While it cannot be argued that economic stimulus is welcome and necessary in Beaver County which has been in an economic state of depression since the eighties when the steel mills ceased operations; one cannot help but feel that no one is "watching the hen house" and making sure this development is safe for the health of the community and the environment.

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