I would like to lead this story with some personal background and I will try not to infuse much emotion. The land I currently reside upon, was bequeathed to me, my wife and two daughters,
by my Grandfather, whom received it from his Father, whom purchased it from the Grace Mines at the conclusion of mine activities. I, after having served in the United States Marine Corps and having a tour of combat in 2005-06 Fallujah, Iraq, needed a place of rest and relaxation away from the busy life of cities and people. Being diagnosed with Hypervigilance Syndrome (a diagnosis before PTSD was associated to Iraq/Afghanistan Vets) I could no longer reside in close proximity to others as even small noises would put me in panic and protection mode. In moving to the countryside, I was able to slightly relax and not check my locks five and six times a night, or spend countless hours patrolling my property in efforts to protect my family. In a small part, in building my home here, it became my fortress of comfort, both physical and mental. The other purpose it served was to assist my Grandparents, my neighbors, in their later years in plowing snow, mowing the lawn, medical care and ultimately the end of life care necessary.
On or about May 1, 2017 the construction activities finally began on my property. Surveyors were out, marked the Right of Way (ROW), and by early June trees were cleared
and land leveled for instillation of the new pipeline. During a conversation with one of the Welded (company laying pipe in my area) employees I learned there were two lines to be laid. Bearing concern and contacting the Percheron ROW agent I was instructed to review the written portion of the easement, where I did in fact find the language buried in the contract identifying two lines not to exceed 24” in diameter. My excitement of a large check and the coxing of a smooth talking ROW agent had the agreement signed before I reviewed in in full, my mistake.
I believe it was following the July 4th Holiday, if not before that the HDD rig was placed and began drilling operations. The week of July 17th I began to observe fully having gastrointestinal distress. I had frequent urges to go to the bathroom, excessive gas expulsion, and very little actually being passed. Having recently started a new position at my place of employment and it being stressful, I chalked it up to work related stress. Unfortunately, my condition did not improve over time and I soon began to pass more blood then mucus and increasingly became lethargic and fatigued. Not knowing a cause and being fearful of reality I did not seek medical advice and hoped it would pass.
August 10th I read an article from the local Reading Eagle Mariner East settlement allows drilling to resume | Reading Eagle - NEWS that explained the problems that other landowners along the pipeline had experienced, and a settlement had been reached with Sunoco that included the landowner’s right to have well water tested for bacteria. Working in the water industry myself I immediately recognized the potential of my condition being associated with bacterial ingestion and immediately contacted my ROW agent to request water testing be conducted on my well. The ROW agent (Scarlett Jackson) confirmed that she could schedule the testing ad would be in touch with me. August 14th GES Company, came and drew a multitude of water samples from my well and confirmed to me that they would be running the full extent of testing required. Being in the water industry myself and capable of running bacteria tests within a laboratory at work I drew samples myself on August 16th and ran the 24 hour Fecal Coliform indicator test. My work lab returned the results on the 17th confirming an extremely high concentration of Fecal Coliform and E Coli bacteria, of which I relayed to my ROW agent. She immediately tried to set up bringing me bottled water as well as a meeting to talk with her boss, I declined both on the premise that I wanted to have the Sunoco official results first. At this time I and my family stopped using and drinking our well water for consumption purposes.
Friday August 18th Berks County was hit with a major deluge of rain. Measures of 2.0 to 2.6 inches were recorded commonly in the southern regions of Berks, my residence included. I observed a complete and total failure of all erosion and sediment (E&S) protections on my property. This included video and photos of run off waters breaching the HDD rig and washing sediment and drilling mud directly into the East Branch of the Conestoga River. Saturday August 19th workers were onsite at 6am disassembling and removing the HDD. I made contact with an employee and asked whom was responsible for reporting the E&S failures and showed him the video, he said “that doesn’t prove anything” and walked away. I returned to my home and filed my own EPA/DEP violation notice. The Conestoga is a designated warm water fishery according to Chapter 93 Water Quality Standards and reviewed by W.A.V.E.
August 23rd I had finally reached my frustration point with my medical concerns. The amount of blood I was passing was now very significant and was concerning myself and my wife whom is a Nurse. I was able to schedule an Emergency appointment with Berks Digestive Disease Associates for the following day and took a sick day from work in order to attend the appointment on the 24th. The Doctor observing no outward signs of trauma or other reason for bleeding upon physical examination and recommended I immediately schedule a Colonoscopy.
August 25th I again requested the well results from the ROW agent. Again, none were available but she did direct me to the GES Company whom had drawn the samples. I emailed them as well requesting results. I informed the ROW agent that if the samples had not been run by the lab yet that they have exceeded their hold times and the samples were no longer viable. I also drew another well water sample myself on the 24th and it returned on the 25th as still present with E Coli and Fecal Coliform. August 28th I again needed to take a sick day from work to have the Colonoscopy performed. The concept of needing a Colonoscopy at 35 years old is both concerning and emotionally frightening. The preparation work is emotionally and physically draining. The procedure was conducted and the Doctor informed me that she observe moderate Colitis and had taken a multitude of biopsies to rule out cancer. Cancer, at 35 I am now concerned about my life ending, my children having a father, and doubting myself as a human being in whole! My follow up appointment occurred September 18th where no Cancer was found but my Colitis may be a lifelong affliction manageable with medication and diet. Further Colonoscopies will determine follow on care.
September 14th I drew water samples to be run by Suburban Properties Inspections. As litigation and or definitive documentation may be necessary have independent lab results was necessary. I incurred the costs to have the tests conducted and returned on September 19th confirming the continued presence of E Coli and Fecal Coliform. September 20th I sought Counsel and in discussing the case with an environmental lawyer I found that since I was getting better I have no recourse against the pipeline for my medical expenses which are over $1,000 dollars now. I could get assistance in having a treatment system installed for my well but essentially there was no further recourse available to me to see damages in depreciation of property value, or follow medical costs. I was up against a Billion Dollar company who would bury me in paperwork until I got tired of fighting and there was nothing that could be done.
September 21st I received messages from the ROW agent saying that the new process for water samples required the Law Department of Sunoco to review the samples prior to releasing them to the landowner and that they need to improve their system in order to get results to the landowner sooner. Furthermore, my particular results were accidently left on someone’s desk and had not been forwarded appropriately.
September 29th completely frustrated and out of options I reached out to and was contacted back by a representative from the Clean Air Council. Kathryn Urbanowicz was able to inform me of a multitude of documentation and information that was relevant to the settlement as well as educated me of the process going forward. I received guidance on how to access the settlement documents, review plans, and what actions Sunoco should be taking going forward. I was further informed that if I had experienced a well contamination incident I should report that via DEPs reporting page, which I did the morning of September 30th.
The afternoon of September 30th I received a hand delivered copy of my initial well results drawn on August 14th. 47 days after the initial test date the results indicated that the Fecal load to my well water was 726 col/100mL, the E Coli load was 727 col/10mL and the total Fecal Coliform load was 2420 MPN/100mL. This was certainly the cause of my gastrointestinal distress as consuming contaminated water is the #1 cause of digestive complications. Furthermore, the result for these particular exams had been returned on August 15th and neither Sunoco, the ROW agent nor the Laboratory themselves notified me that my water was poisonous and a direct threat to human health and life. It is absolutely preposterous that they knew and failed to inform my household. Had we not stopped drinking the water after our own results we would have still been consuming contaminated water and everyone in the house could have likely been sick, hospitalized or in extreme case dead.
I filled a second well water complaint on the DEPs website on October 1st further indicating the exact well water test results that were obtained from the water report. I was contacted by Andrea Blosser whom provided me with information about Penn States programs on education and repair of the issue, which I have no money to obtain in either case. She also indicated she would reach out to Sunoco directly and have them specifically address my well. That has not happened to date.
The water issue was continued to be kicked back and forth and I continued to ask questions trying to find out how I get clean water. I filled Right to Know Requests and found out that the DEP released Sunoco from Special Condition 20b on November 13, 2017 without any investigation of their own. Even with the evidence I provided to the contrary the DEP refused to admit that Sunoco could be liable even with the multitude of well contamination experienced on other sections of the pipeline. In review comments dated November 23, 2017, Sunoco indicated to the DEP that they had not previously considered my well, one would assume this would negate the previous releasing Sunoco from Special Condition 20b but no such reasonable stance was taken.
Instead I was forced to file a complaint with the Environmental Hearing board and proceed through the legal channels, incurring additional costs and hardships. The psychological and physical toll of this pipeline has continued to compound entering into my every facet of my life. The lies continue to be told, work hours extended past 7pm, the trespassing, the water contamination returned after the drill was shut down but still no one will listen. The DEP is ineffective at best, Sunoco is an environmental rapist pillaging our lives and lands.
We will no longer stand idly by and let this happen. Let our voice be heard, Let our story be told.
- David Anspach