Butler County Residents Struggle with Contaminated Water

Butler+County+Residents+Struggle+with+Contaminated+Water

triblive.com

Shannon Turgeon, News Editor

Multiple Connoquenessing Township families have been struggling to live their lives without access to clean water for over a year, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

Residents of the Woodlands neighborhood in Connoquenessing Township first noticed a problem in January 2011. Multiple homeowners claimed that water from their wells was dark colored and contained solid material. In an August 2012 interview, residents told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that the water smelled foul, caused rashes when it came in contact with skin, and also caused vomiting when ingested.

Several families who lived in the Woodlands quickly contacted Rex Energy, the company that had drilled rigs nearby to access Marcellus Shale. They also made sure that the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection was aware of their situation.

Rex Energy and the Department of Environmental Protection tested the water and indicated that there was nothing wrong with it. A report by Rex Energy stated that “There are no noticeable differences in water chemistry in pre and post drill water quality of the water wells in question.”

Initially, Woodlands residents protested Rex Energy and the DEP’s statement. They marched near local Rex Energy offices and sent YouTube videos to the Environmental Protection Agency. However, when their efforts didn’t provide any results, residents started to take matters into their own hands. Janet McIntyre, a Woodlands homeowner, contacted John Stolz, the director of the Center for Environmental Research and Education at Duquesne University. McIntyre told Stolz about the change in water quality, and he decided to help.

Stolz sent a questionnaire around the neighborhood, asking residents questions about their wells, water, and the water testing. About 50 homes reported problems with their water. In an article from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Stolz explained that even though initial water testing came back clean, the fact that the water is orange colored and contains solid material means that more testing should be done. “Even if it’s from a cosmetic point of view, you’re not going to bathe in that water, you’re not going to drink that water, and you’re not going to use it to make your tea,” he stated.

The lack of clean water for Woodlands residents has severely impacted their lives. “It’s rough. I wake up and think about water all day long. Water, water, water. We can’t live like this,” McIntyre explained in an interview with the Post-Gazette. Many residents have been forced to use bottled water to live their daily lives, but most agree that this is not the answer. “It’s a temporary solution to a long-term problem,” McIntyre stated.

Some families feel that they have been forced to take more drastic action. Kim McEvoy made the decision to move away from her Woodlands home that she had lived in for sixteen years. Without water, her house only had one offer for $15,000, which was a far cry from the $68,000 that she had bought the house for. Her fiancé, Mr. Sowatsky, told the Post- Gazette that his paranoia over water supplies stays with him, even in a new home. He still keeps over a dozen empty water jugs on hand in case the public water is ever turned off. “It’s a culture shock. I keep looking for the gallon jug,” Sowatsky stated.

Community organizations have begun to organize support for families who chose to stay in the Woodlands. About nine months ago, a charity called Water for Woodlands began providing residents with drinking water. Now, the charity spends around $400 a week and aids 25 families. In addition, an activist group, Marcellus Outreach Butler, held a lasagna dinner to raise money for drinking water, according to TribLIVE. Reverend Lee Dreyer, who has been helping raise money with Water for Woodlands, told TribLIVE his take on the situation in the Woodlands: “I think it’s horrible. They are learning to be very thrifty with their use of the water…every drop is precious to them.”