HARRISBURG Abril 30, 2024 − State Sen. Katie Muth (D-Chester/Montgomery/Berks) today joined Physicians for Social Responsibility Pennsylvania, author Justin Nobel and several environmental advocacy groups, impacted residents and former industry workers at a press conference to discuss hazardous waste and worker safety in Pennsylvania.

The press conference held in the Capitol Rotunda in Harrisburg included discussion on the public health impacts caused by exposure to hazardous waste, the need to close Pennsylvania’s hazardous waste loopholes, and the specific findings uncovered in Justin Nobel’s latest book, Petroleum-238: Big Oil’s Dangerous Secret and the Grassroots Fight to Stop It.

“Decades of evidence documented and researched by scientific experts, government agencies, and even the oil and gas industry groups, have shown the array of harms to both humans and our environment that result from oil and gas extraction, transport, storage and waste disposal. While this toxic waste containing harmful constituents like lead, radium, and even PFAS/PFOA “forever chemical” may not be classified as hazardous or toxic by state and federal regulators due to corporate influence, these loopholes do not exempt workers, residents, our air, land, and water from the toxic and often irreversible harm,” Muth said. “PA government leaders need to take immediate action to close the hazardous waste loophole, and finally classify this waste for what it is: HAZARDOUS.  One of the foundational responsibilities of government at all levels is to protect people from harm. Failure to take immediate action to end the decades of human suffering is simply unacceptable.” 

Senator Muth has introduced two bills – Senate Bill 26 and Senate Bill 28 – which would add language to Pennsylvania’s Solid Waste Management Act that would classify oil and gas waste as hazardous, and compel companies to more thoroughly test that waste prior to its disposal.

Released last week, Petroleum-238: Big Oil’s Dangerous Secret and the Grassroots Fight to Stop Itcovers the author’s seven-year investigation into how the U.S. oil and gas industry has avoided environmental regulations and created a dangerous and radioactive public health crisis. The bookrelies on stunning worker accounts to reveal that at some fracking waste treatment facilities the industry has relied on workers recently released from prison and often addicted to drugs to do the horrifically dangerous work of ‘treating’ radioactive oilfield waste, yet granted these workers no appropriate knowledge on the dangers they are facing or protection against it. 

“Oilfield waste workers face stunning exposure risks yet are often told nothing about radioactivity and provided no appropriate protection against it. Paltry regulations have enabled a nightmare network of shadow fracking waste treatment facilities where sloppy facilities have plopped themselves down in the middle of unknowing communities and unprotected men shovel and scoop about radioactive sludge, sometimes wearing nothing more than T-shirts,” Nobel said. “Reports laid out in Petroleum-238: Big Oil’s Dangerous Secret and the Grassroots Fight to Stop It, indicate that at locations within the natural gas pipeline system where emissions are vented to the air, significant amounts of radioactivity can be expected to be released, including at natural gas processing plants and compressor stations, facilities critical to compress natural gas and keep the gas moving through pipelines. Compressor stations are present in almost every US state.”

Sean Guthrie, a resident of Fayette County, also spoke at the press conference and worked for ten years in fracking waste, including at the notorious Fairmont Brine facility in Fairmont, West Virginia.

“I felt good about working with fracking waste because I thought we were doing something beneficial for the environment. I always wondered what we were getting covered in, now two of my coworkers are dead from cancer and I suffer a range of health issues,” Guthrie added. “I would like to see some accountability.”

Environmental advocates at the press conference echoed those sentiments.

“For too long, families and workers have been cast aside and overlooked by the very industry that once promised prosperity. The harms of fracking loom large, from environmental degradation to health risks, leaving communities to bear the brunt of its consequences,” added Megan McDonough, Pennsylvania State Director, Food & Water Watch. “Today, we stand united in demanding accountability and urgent action. The time to prioritize the well-being of our communities over profit margins is long overdue.”

Justin Nobel’s book contains an explosive set of 50-year-old reports and statements by top government hydrology experts as well as oil and gas industry experts conveying that waste disposal via underground injection is a scientifically-unfounded and meritless process, and one doomed to fail and contaminate. Petroleum-238 contains cases backed up by present-day government reports detailing how injection wells have been documented to be leaking fracking wastewater back to the surface in certain locations across the country.  

“Justin Nobel’s investigation into the radioactive risks posed by the oil and gas and petrochemical industries has produced damning evidence provided in part by his extensive research, community science, revelations by industry workers, and stories of those living on the frontlines,” said Jill Hunkler, founder of Ohio Valley Allies. “Local oil and gas industry workers are left in the dark about the exposure risks, and are the least valued assets of the industry, earning the least pay, with no benefits, working long shifts, with no training or protective gear, and given the most dangerous jobs usually involving waste management, equipment maintenance and cleaning, and remediation for spills, accidents, and malfunctions.”

Dr. Ken Hilsbos sees patients as a solo Family Physician in Fairmont, West Virginia, a coal and rustbelt town of about 18,000. Living less than a mile from the radioactive fracking waste site known as Fairmont Brine Processing, Dr. Hilsbos has helped start organizing the closest neighbors of the defunct plant. For a number of years before starting medical school at West Virginia University, he worked as an Environmental Scientist for the State of West Virginia then a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) contractor.  

“Imagine my dismay–but not surprise–to learn of such a mess as Fairmont Brine Processing, with unsecured, concentrated radioactive waste less than a mile from our house. Everyone here knows there is fracking for “natural gas” in every direction around us. But industry and government have hidden the levels of radiation and toxic chemicals,” Dr. Hilsbos said. “The greatest amount of radioactive waste at the site is radium-226, according to an EPA survey of the ground surface. When radium-226 gets inside you, it goes to your bones, where it can cause cancer years later.”

The press conference was co-hosted by Physicians for Social Responsibility Pennsylvania (PSR PA), a public health, 501c3 non-profit organization whose mission is to champion the health of all communities by advocating for socially and environmentally just actions. 

“We’re learning that these fracking sites can contain elevated levels of radioactivity, and it may also be concentrated at oilfield waste treatment centers, injection wells, landfills, pipelines and compressor stations—they’re all likely unsafe for human activity.  Workers need to be protected, and right now, obviously they are not,” said Dr. Pouné Saberi, an occupational and environmental medicine physician based in Philadelphia who serves on the board of PSR PA.

State Rep. Chris Rabb and Dr. Yuri Gorby, a native of West Virginia and former United States Department of Energy scientist with radiological training, also participated in the press conference.

Watch a full recording of the press conference at www.SenatorMuth.com/video and click here for more information on Justin Nobel’s Petroleum-238: Big Oil’s Dangerous Secret and the Grassroots Fight to Stop It.

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