Drilling Down

Love Canal Activist Speaks for FrackFree’s Frustration

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YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — The female activist from the Love Canal neighborhood of Niagara Falls, N.Y., stood before the Northstar 1 injection well Friday afternoon to warn residents of Youngstown about the dangers to their health open injection wells pose.

Lois Gibbs, the activist who, in the 1970s, led the Love Canal community against the Hooker Chemical Co. (since acquired by Occidental Petroleum Corp.), and the New York state and federal governments, warned Youngstown residents of the dangers of open injection wells.

What happened in her community nearly 40 years ago could happen here, she said. The board of education in Niagara Falls bought the abandoned Love Canal that Hooker Chemical had used as a dump to bury toxic waste, Hooker not knowing just how toxic it was. Nor did the school board when it paid Hooker $1 for the site to build a school.

Gibbs’ son attended the school and developed epilepsy, asthma and a urinary tract infection. Other students at the school developed severe illnesses and conditions. Gibbs led the effort to get to the bottom of situation the resulted in the fledgling U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to become involved and take action.

Gibbs came here to warn of a similar peril here with injection wells left open.

“This well is shut down, but it’s not plugged” Gibbs said Friday afternoon. “If it’s not plugged, then it’s really not shut down. It’s sitting there until someone wants to reopen it because there’s so much waste. Let’s not take radioactive material and put it on this land. This all goes into the aquifer and into people’s water.”

With the well unplugged, she said, rain, melting snow and runoff can mix with the residue and contaminate the aquifer underground. The Northstar 1 well is associated with a 4.0 earthquake on Dec. 31, 2011, that could be felt as far away as Canada, claims FrackFree Mahoning Valley. Gibbs also spoke at a town hall meeting the group hosted last night.

In the mid 1970s, residents of Love began noticing high rates of illnesses among their children who attended the school. In addition, Gibbs said, women who lived close to the Love Canal began delivering an inordinate number of babies with birth defects. The defects affected as many as 56% of infants, Gibbs said, but the state health department said the defects were a random cluster.

“I understand what it’s like to feel helpless, to have a sick family, to feel what it’s like feeling threatened every single day,” said Gibbs, today the executive director of the Center for Health, Environment and Justice. “When the people in this community get sick as a result from waste being put on the land or from deep well injection, they’ll have a tough time proving why they’re sick. The families in this beautiful area, good hard-working families, will be left with nothing but bills and illness and tragedy.”

The area’s economy should not involve fracking in any capacity, Gibbs said, noting that once wells are active, only one or two people work at a site. If the community continues to invest in the industry, she added, it would be “like opening Pandora’s box. …

“This is not a jobs issue. The jobs don’t come here for local people. They’re out-of-state people working the pads. There needs to be an economic development plan that takes advantage of this environment and people’s skills to build it up,” she said.

Doug Fowler, an associate with FrackFree, agreed with Gibbs and said the group brought her to Youngstown to draw attention to a “legitimate problem” that they feel is often ignored.

“She’s someone who’s been through this, in a slightly different format with an old hazardous waste site. She’s one of the nation’s experts and foremost activists,” Fowler said. “Maybe with this we’ll get some attention from officials.”

The city hasn’t seen the promises kept from when the wells were first drilled years ago, he added.

“We’re an economically depressed area that never recovered from the closing of the steel mills and people are waiting for anything with the promise of jobs,” Fowler said. “But we haven’t seen the jobs. We haven’t seen the production from these wells. We aren’t seeing the leases paid off. They’re a disappointment. We never saw the boom and we’re going to be left with the bust.”

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.