Photo Caption: Local officials, environmental activists and guests from the Global Community Monitor engage in a panel discussion on fracking and injection wells Friday at ARTS/West in Athens.
A number of community members will soon be testing air quality throughout Athens County to measure the impact of oil and gas waste injection wells, anti-fracking advocates revealed this weekend.
Anti-fracking advocates and local elected officials came together at ARTS/West on West State Street Friday afternoon to discuss air-testing community science training conducted by an entity known as Global Community Monitor.
GCM is a California-based anti air contamination organization that provided training Saturday to 20 Appalachian Ohio and West Virginia residents to measure levels of air contamination in their communities.
"In response to the presence of documented toxics in local injection well open pits and to the headaches and throat irritation experienced by residents who have ventured near the well sites, Athens Fracking Action Network has invited GCM to offer their 'Bucket Brigade' program to our region," the ACFAN announced in a press release.
The meeting at ARTS/West included a presentation and discussion among Ruth Breech of GCM, Molly Rauch of Mom's Clean Air Task Force, based out of Washington, D.C., and Teresa Mills, a Nelsonville native, of the Center for Health, Environment and Justice and Buckeye Forest Council.
Joining them were Athens County Commissioner Lenny Eliason, Athens Mayor Paul Wiehl, Athens City Council members Michel Papai, Chris Knisely and Chris Fahl, and local Fracking Action Network members Christine Hughes and Heather Cantino.
The Bucket Brigade, according to provided documents, originated in 1995 with Edward Masry, the attorney who worked with famed environmental activist Erin Brokovich.
"Upset about a release of toxic fumes from a local oil refinery, Masry tried to find a way for ordinary people to document air pollution," a release states. "The result is a user-friendly device, housed inside a 5-gallon bucket that can 'grab' and store air samples for analysis."
It adds that communities that establish a Bucket Brigade can challenge polluters and encourage more active enforcement of environmental laws.
While GCM typically has worked with communities near active industries, Breech said, the deep-shale oil and gas drilling boom of the last several years has seen the organization's offices flooded with concerns.
"Our office has literally been overwhelmed with calls," she said. 'There's so many people being affected, and there's just so little information about what people are actually breathing in."
She said this is where GCM comes in.
"That's part of our role, to come show people how to take those samples, how to find out what they're breathing in, and also learn how to advocate for themselves, to reduce emissions and clean up the industry," she said.
She said that she chose to come to Athens due to word of mouth that the community was well organized to promote the type of community science that will have an impact.
"Our goal is to empower people on the ground," Breech said. "We want to work with leaders. We want to see leadership development. We want people to take on the issues themselves."
Breech brought a bucket to the discussion, explaining that a bag inside the bucket captures the air sample and is then sent off to a testing lab in California. That lab provides documentation of any chemicals found.
Breech, Rauch and Mills took a tour of Athens County injection well sites Friday morning, they said. Breech said they spotted a waste pool sitting on the surface near a well that was evaporating into the atmosphere. Papai said that those in attendance could feel the impacts of the noxious chemicals being released.
The presenters emphasized that the state Environmental Protection Agency has no current air quality testing in this region; therefore the Bucket Brigade is a way of empowering citizens to take such action themselves.
She said a typical bucket device costs around $125 with the bags being about $25 each. She said the testing can run the gamut from near $100 up to $470 depending on how many chemicals are included.
"The capacity here is strong enough to kind of take on this regional role," Breech said. "It's not just Athens. It's the county. It's Meigs County, Monroe County, Washington County. You guys are providing this central leadership for this entire region, that's why (they came to) Athens."
Hughes pointed out that the county is not currently overwhelmed by oil and gas deep-shale drilling or hydraulic fracturing.
"So we've got a little bit of space, and our emotional state isn't as aggravated as some up in Carroll County who are inundated with this," she said. "So we hope to be a resource after we learn from you all."
Breech noted that this region's physical health hasn't been impacted yet.
"People who are in a frack zone, they're sick," she said. "They're sick. Their farm animals are sick. They're feeling it on a lot of different levels."
The oil and gas industry has consistently denied any adverse health or environmental effects from fracking or its waste disposal, other than in isolated cases related to negligence or poor engineering of well components.