Heaven Sensky: How many more of my friends have to die before Pa. takes action?
Nearly 2,000 deep shale gas wells have been drilled and fracked in Washington County. Earlier this month, the Pennsylvania Department of Health held a public meeting at Canon-McMillan High School to defend its claim that there is no cancer cluster in our region. Twelve children and young adults have been diagnosed with rare Ewing sarcoma cancers between 2011 and 2018, and many affected parents have expressed grave concern over the impacts of oil and gas development.
As a 2015 graduate of Canon-McMillan, this issue is close to my heart. I have watched my friends and classmates suffer. I have had to deal with more cancer diagnoses than anyone should have to. I feel so wholeheartedly that what is happening in our backyards is the issue of our time here in southwestern Pennsylvania that I changed my career path and sought work in environmental justice.
Parents whose children have been affected by the high occurrence of rare tumors want the state to take a closer look to see if the natural gas industry or other environmental causes could be to blame. Residents across the community have been tirelessly making the case to our elected officials that it’s their duty and responsibility to seek answers.
For centuries, we have systematically been swallowed up and spit back out by fossil-fuel companies extracting oil and gas from our land. The industry takes and takes from us until there is nothing left but death and destruction. When we are no longer deemed “profitable,” it’s on us to clean up the mess industry has made. We suffer the consequences of the predictable economic bust. All the while, our elected officials serve the industry in the name of “economic prosperity,” aiding hedge-fund companies that always have and always will prioritize profits over people.
And now, the mess the industry is leaving us includes dying children.
What Department of Health representatives didn’t say is that not all of the cases present in Canon-McMillan were considered in its study. What they didn’t say is that the two state representatives who commissioned the study are supported financially by the oil and gas industry.
The natural gas industry continues to expand — now with even fewer regulations — right in our backyards. Chemicals and radium are being spewed into our drinking water sources and into our air. We do not have time for 20 more years of research before we acknowledge that something is wrong. How many more families have to suffer before we take this impact seriously? How many more of my friends have to die before Gov. Tom Wolf stops trading political deals to protect the natural gas industry at the expense of my community?
We will not allow our elected officials to ignore our right to a healthy environment. Shale gas development has proven to be a risk, and it is not alarmist to demand change. Young adults like me should not have to fear every ache and lump we get or be forced to leave our homes to save our lives. I am not going to accept any more empty promises from my government. I will continue to fight for my right to stay in the place I love to call home.