Lois drew parallels between the battles she has fought and what we are facing here in Butler County and throughout Pennsylvania.
· The chemicals used in fracking are some of the same that were found migrating out of the 20,000 ton dumpsite at Love Canal.
· The primary exposure root in Love Canal was evaporated chemicals in the air. With fracking there are two main exposure routes, air and water, which is much worse.
· The health impacts are similar to those being reported in homes near fracking operations: skin rashes, reproductive problems, neurological problems, cancer and children with asthma and other diseases.
· The belief that once the government learned the facts, they would step in and correct the problem and provide relief. And that just was not so, at least at the beginning.
The community of Love Canal did their own health survey to find out how many of their neighbors were being affected. They discovered that 56% had experienced health impacts. And most startling was that in a 2 year period, 22 women had become pregnant. Only 4 delivered normal babies. These findings were confirmed by the NY State Health Department. However, they concluded that the birth defects were not due to exposures to Love Canal, but a random clustering of genetically defected people. The community quickly realized that although scientific research is critical, that research alone was not the answer to getting relief.
Another difficult truth was that in America it is legal to poison people with chemicals. Corporations are given permits to release chemicals into the air, water and soils. By exposing families to a little bit of chemicals from different points of discharge, corporations increase the risk of cancer and other diseases. No one is looking at the cumulative impact of having all these chemicals released from different points of discharge, just as no one is looking at the cumulative impact of numerous wells and compression stations, plus gas processing plants, in a relatively small area.
Although Lois shared the shocking truth about what happened in Love Canal, she inspired those in attendance by sharing what she and her neighbors did to become part of the solution. The way to win is go get enough people actively involved and focus the collective energy on a decision maker. In their case they targeted the governor and made his life uncomfortable. They let the public know that the Governor of NY was allowing good taxpaying citizens to suffer by dogging him with signs and protestors wherever he was speaking. At every fundraiser he attended they stood outside and handed flyers to the Governor’s largest donors, held prayer vigils, traveled in motorcades to the state capital with a symbolic coffin representing the death of their community and taking on a media campaign that focused on human interest stories to educate the public and put pressure on the Governor.
The one thing they did not do was say, “there is nothing we can do. This industry is too powerful.” They were victorious because the government paid to move 833 families out of Love Canal and started the Superfund to clean up toxic dump sites. Gibbs’ emphatically stated that no one is going to protect you if they do not have to. Her advice is to use the science and legal channels, but most importantly turn up the heat politically. Education is important but action is what will turn the tide in favor of protecting health and wellbeing of communities.
The following is a summary of some actions she suggested.
· Pick the person in power who can give you what you want and create a campaign to dog this person with signs and protestors wherever he shows up.
· Groups across the region, city and state need to come together to share resources and support actions wherever there is need.
· Establish rules about not arguing if fracking should be banned, placed on a moratorium or better regulated. The industry loves it when we get divided over this battle. Agree that we want to prevent harm from fracking.
· Decide which groups of people you want to bring on board. Find out what they value by listening and create the strategies to bring them into the movement.
This workshop was co-sponsored by Center for Health, Environment and Justice (CHEJ) and Marcellus Outreach Butler (MOB).
Website for CHEJ: www.chej.org
Website for MOB: www.marcellusoutreachbutler.org