TOWN OF MINISINK – Public health toxicologist David Brown does not call his work with people living around gas compressor stations “research.”
“When people are sick, you don’t do a study. You find out what they’re sick from,” he said.
Brown is a founder of the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project, a nonprofit group begun in 2011, initially devoted to providing public health information and services related to natural gas extraction in Washington County.
Now the Environmental Health Project is studying 30 people living near the Millennium Pipeline gas compressor that was built in Minisink 18 months ago.
The Environmental Health Project’s work with residents near gas drilling sites led to investigation of areas surrounding gas compressors. Brown said he found those people were often sicker than the population near gas wells.
“Around compressors, emissions are bigger and more frequent, “ he said.
Brown previously worked for the national Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, but left to investigate what he calls “orphaned” public health issues — neglected trouble spots.
Last year, Brown and his colleagues published a peer-reviewed article about the health impact of natural gas facilities. Pramilla Malick, a weekend resident of Minisink and founder of the group Protect Orange County, saw it and called Brown.
Malick was active in opposing the siting of the compressor in Minisink. She said its frequent malodorous emissions have been followed by health problems among residents.
Malick’s house is three-eighths of a mile from the compressor station. Now she only visits Minisink sporadically because of the maladies that she says have afflicted her and her family there since the compressor began operation. She said she suffers asthma attacks, and her adolescent daughter has gushing nosebleeds. She said they only have symptoms in Minisink, not where they live in Manhattan.
Others in the area have been getting nosebleeds, headaches, rashes, respiratory, gastrointestinal, and neurological symptoms, especially after compressor “odor events,” she said.
To identify the source of people’s symptoms, the Environmental Health Project uses a systematic protocol: A physician or nurse practitioner interviews and examines participants, distinguishing pre-existing conditions from more recent symptoms. Then, as residents keep health diaries for four to six weeks, Speck air monitors inside and outside their houses record concentrations of particulate matter hourly.
“All I can tell you right now is that the monitors have identified episodic exposure to unhealthy levels of particulate matter,” Malick said.
Brown said data gathering in Minisink will be completed in about two weeks.