We could say you had to be there, but that’s what the ABCAlliance blog is for. Over the next few days, we’re rolling out our notes covering what we told the school board one week ago … and what one parent wanted to say, if she could.
By the way, all agree, not only did we put our hearts and brains on the line, we looked good, too.
What Peggy Said
Last week, visiting with Dr. Wright, we were encouraged that she was in touch with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality about our concerns that students and staff are breathing fumes from the Hillwood site.
I want you to understand what you get after the inspectors come take an air sample.
In three to four weeks, the lab report comes back. You’ll get levels for some, but not all the toxic compounds that were in the air. Some levels will be lower than the event that drove the complaint. Some might be higher. Then, a month or two after that, you’ll get a report from the agency’s toxicology division that will spell out what risk comes from what was observed in that tiny slice of time.
At lower levels of toxic compounds, you might get a recommendation that the situation warrants further monitoring.
If the levels of toxic compounds are really high, there might be a recommendation to the operator to make a change – for example, to switch from oil-based drilling muds to salt-water based drilling muds, or to replace their diesel engines with electric ones.
Recommendations that the operator can ignore with impunity.
You see, there is no air permit while they are drilling, no document that polices what they can emit. And there is no state or federal rule that says if they emit benzene past a certain level, they have broken the law.
By the way, if our kids and your staff are saying it smells like a gas station out there, they are probably inhaling benzene, along with scores of other chemicals of concern.
Here’s an important number to know – the odor threshold for benzene is 61 to 91 parts-per-million.
But the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry says the limit for the kinds of exposure they are likely getting on the practice fields in the morning is 9 parts-per-billion.
Inside the school buildings themselves, that level should be lower still.
In other words, as each day and week goes by that you try to document a slice or two of time, our kids and your staff are logging hour after hour of a dose likely greater than research recommends.
With Argyle ISD as a leaseholder on all these units, and as our community’s largest organization, the ABCAlliance believes you still have the power to turn this ship around.
As a taxpayer in this district, I am increasingly uncomfortable, given the amount of notice you continue to receive about the risks and consequences of gas development, that you continue to travel down this road. Because we are required by law to send our children to school, despite our own misgivings, the point of no return is approaching. Something will happen and the district will be unable to escape liability, if you, as a board, continue to stand by and do nothing.
What Kelly Said
LEVITICUS 5:1 If a person sins because he does not speak up when he hears a public charge to testify regarding something he has seen or learned about, he will be held responsible.
That is why I am here today.
I have a son, Zachary, at the Argyle Intermediate School, and a daughter, Allison, at the Argyle High School. I am here tonight to speak about my concerns regarding the gas drilling in Argyle and about the health of not just my children, but all of the children entrusted to you, the school board.
Fifteen years ago – before kids – my husband and I were searching for a place to live and raise a family. We looked far and wide. We even looked in Decatur but were turned off by all the gas production we saw. I was especially turned off because of my background. I worked for an oil refinery for two years in Port Arthur – an area nicknamed “Explosion Coast” and “Cancer Alley.” I couldn’t get out of there fast enough. When I was finally able to leave, they were in the middle of a government-mandated, $200 million soil remediation project. In layman’s terms, it’s a clean-up where they harvest all the dirt around them, run it through incinerators, rendering it inert and incapable of ever growing anything, mixing it with cementations materials and then dumping it back where they found it.
We were overjoyed when we found Argyle and its exemplary schools and have pinched ourselves many times as we have watched the school and the community grow and evolve into a precious gem – as well as our children. But now, Argyle has been invaded by the gas industry and when I drive to school to drop off my children, I am on high alert for fumes and wind direction based on how the flags are blowing at the Whitehead well.
My children both have asthma and both have shown a marked turn for the worst in this last year. I have already had to update Allison’s Action Plan with the school nurse twice since the beginning of this school year. The latest update was because Allison has had to use her emergency inhaler every day for the last month or so. At her last doctor’s appointment, her allergist said that she didn’t understand why, after having her allergies and asthma under control for so many years, she has now digressed to the degree that she has. She said it could possibly be because a host of new triggers are being introduced into the environment by the gas drilling industry.
Twice in the last two weeks, I have had to pull Allison out of early morning marching band practice because of extreme, dense, noxious fumes on the field. Both of our symptoms [editor’s note: Kelly also has asthma] were severe enough that I felt I had to call the TCEQ hotline number to report the incidents. I have filed notarized affidavits regarding our experiences with TCEQ. Not only did Allison have an asthma attack for which she needed treatment, but also she had many other health issues as well, including her first-ever nosebleed that night and the night before when she was also exposed to fumes.
On the first day I pulled her off the band field, she complained of dizziness, headache and difficulty concentrating all day. After school, she even complained about muscle spasms in her back and extreme nervousness and jitteriness. She said, “I feel really weird, Mom. I can’t explain it, but I have to pace.” I did not want to alarm her, so I simply told her to go take a shower and lay down. Pulling my daughter out of marching band not only punishes her, but also punishes the whole band family. Mr. Hilley was supportive and confirmed that he also smelled the fumes and was wondering what they were and helped me get Allison off the field. Another band staff member said that when she drives into Argyle with her sunroof open she, too, can smell the fumes when she hits Argyle.
When the investigating TCEQ representative was questioned by a parent about why the fumes from this well are so bad, he said that it was because they are using a petroleum-based lubricant for drilling. This method has commonly been employed on off-shore drilling rigs and studies have been performed on the effects of these chemical vapors on workers as well as aquatic life. I suppose the only advantage of being able to smell the fumes from the Whitehead well is that you have some idea of when you are being exposed. Other drilling and fracking mediums do not always offer that same alarm.
I think it is important for all of you to understand that asthma in the Barnett Shale is so bad that a study was done by Cook Children’s Hospital. The results showed that the average asthma rate in school children ages 8 and 9 is 25 percent in the Barnett Shale counties compared to the state average of just 7 percent. You also need to understand that, although the gas drilling industry is current exempt from disclosing what chemicals they use, experts have identified at least 260 of these chemicals. Of these, 65 are considered hazardous to human health.
At a North Central Texas Communities Alliance meeting, Dr. Al Armendariz, Region 6 director of the EPA, spoke and admitted that even when they test, it’s only for about six of what they call indicator toxins. The other toxins present are not identified or quantified and only inferred as being present.
Back on January 28, I attended an open house that was hosted by State Rep. Tan Parker and Commissioner Andy Eads. The first part was a presentation by each of the members of the panel representing the various agencies and companies responsible for gas drilling in our area. It was during the question-and-answer portion of this meeting that John Vallanacci, PhD, of the Texas Department of State Health Services stated that benzene can occur at levels that can cause leukemia, changes in the blood, and other cancers that are no detectable by the human nose.
It was also during this meeting that Tony Walker, Region 4 director of the TCEQ, stated that he was assured that he would be provided any resources necessary to measure the public’s health and welfare. Later, during the question-and-answer portion, he changed his tone when an audience member asked if there would be any monitors installed at the sites in Argyle and Bartonville. He revealed that out of the thousands of wells that have been drilled, they will only be installing permanent monitors at 94 stations and none of those would be in our towns. He also stated that rotational, self-monitoring will only occur once every three years. He further established that no baseline tests will be performed at all, anywhere. After claiming that any resources necessary would be available, he stated that they did not have the funds to monitor every well (or hardly any for that matter) and that they TCEQ was relying on the people around these sites to notify them if they noticed any smells or saw anything unusual.
We are the proverbial Canary In A Bird Cage and I would never in my right mind submit an application for this job. But, somehow, that job is now ours.
The gas wells are here now and here to stay. I would like to submit to you, the school board, that you need to develop a plan that will aggressively treat the exposure of our children to the chemicals in the gas drilling industry not just a nuisance but a violation. I would like to see in that plan a method where the administration takes action by calling officials and filing complaints. I would also like for the staff that is at school with athletes and students during non-school hours be made aware of the procedures and that they may file these complaints with the support of the school administration. There are lots of parents, including myself, who would like to assist you in any way possible. Please see the article, Breath Is Life, that I have also passed out. It highlights a very bad week for asthma in the life of my Zachary. I am including this, not to be melodramatic, but because I fear that asthma has become so commonplace that it almost seems mundane. However, I assure you, it is a life-threatening illness, not to be taken lightly. I have been praying for over a year not, first and foremost, for the health and welfare of our children and that God will keep them out of harm’s way. I also pray that the companies, agencies and political figures in charge of the gas drilling industry act in a proactive and responsible manner. I pray that God will reveal to each and every one of us what our role is. I pray that God will give each and every person actively involved in this struggle the strength, knowledge and ability to be proactive in protecting the health and welfare of this planet in a manner that will please and honor Our Maker. Amen.
Tomorrow: What We Said, Part Two