Granville Summit woman says she fell ill after gas well drilling
TOWANDA - Crystal Stroud of Granville Summit said that several days after the recent drilling of a gas well near her home, barium was found in her well water, and that a little over a week later, she came down with barium poisoning.
In a prepared statement that she read at the Bradford County commissioners' meeting on Thursday, Stroud said that April 11 was the day her family's world "spun out of control."
On April 11, her family was notified by Benchmark Analytics Inc. of Sayre that their water well was contaminated with barium, strontium, manganese, lead, methane, radiological material and radon, Stroud said in her statement.
Stroud said that the contamination was caused by the recent drilling of Chief Oil & Gas' Andrus gas well 1,200 feet from her home, or by another gas well in that section of the county.
However, Chief Oil & Gas has since disputed Stroud's claims that the Andrus well could have been the cause of her illness, saying that the Andrus well has not yet been "fracked," and that none of the chemical compounds and metals that Stroud refers to were used in drilling the Andrus well.
Barium is a waste product from hydraulic fracturing.
The DEP says it is investigating the contamination of the Strouds' well water. However, DEP spokesman Dan Spadoni declined to say at this time whether gas drilling caused the contamination of the Strouds' water, since the matter is still under investigation.
However, in a copy of an April 27 e-mail from the DEP to the Strouds, which Crystal Stroud provided to The Review, the DEP tells the Strouds: "You should consider venting your water well. (Attached) is a fact sheet on methane in wells."
Stroud, who is a 29-year-old hair stylist at the Downtown Hair Co. in Towanda, told the commissioners that three weeks prior to April 11, she became ill. Her hair began falling out, she had heart palpitations, shortness of breath and stomach cramps, she said.
She went to the office of her family physician, Dr. Richard Husband, who found that her heart rate and blood pressure were elevated, and Husband's office suggested that she take a medication for anxiety, because they could not find anything else wrong with her.
"Three days later my hands began to tremble. I would lose my balance as I stood from a sitting position," she said. "My speech started to slur."
She said that on April 11, a Benchmark Analytics employee told her that the company had a "major concern" about the contaminants in her water.
She said that when she told the Benchmark Analytics employee on April 11 about her symptoms, the employee told her that the contamination of her well water could be the cause of her health problems.
Benchmark Analytics told Stroud that barium is known to cause the symptoms that she was experiencing, according to Stroud.
She then called her physician, who arranged for her to get a blood test for barium at Memorial Hospital in Towanda.
"After more blood tests and research, they found that I had extremely high levels of barium in my body at a range of 110 micrograms per liter, the normal range being 0 to less than 10 micrograms per liter," Stroud said.
The Review could not confirm on Sunday the results of the test that Memorial Hospital performed on Stroud for the presence of barium, nor could the newspaper confirm what the normal range is for the presence of barium in a person's system.
"When barium accumulates in the body, it affects the functions of the nervous system," Stroud told the commissioners. "Barium poisoning displays symptoms that are similar to flu or anxiety, which is why it is not strange to find the condition misdiagnosed.
"Common symptoms of barium poisoning include:
1. Muscle weakness and tremors.
2. Difficulty in breathing
3. Stomach irritations
5. Cardiac irregularities such as abnormally high blood pressure and rapid heartbeat from profoundly low potassium levels and eventually
6. Paralysis," Stroud said.
The Review could not confirm Sunday night what the symptoms of barium poisoning are.
Stroud did not specify at the commissioners' meeting the amount of contaminants that Benchmark Analytics found in her well water.
However, she did fax a copy of Benchmark Analytics' report on her well water to The Daily Review. According to the report, Benchmark found the following substances in the Strouds' drinking water: barium, 4.75 milligrams per liter; lead, 0.0367 milligrams per liter; strontium, 8.35 milligrams per liter; radon, 154.5 pico Curies per liter; gross Alpha radiological, 14.44 pico Curies per liter; gross Beta radiological, 11.13 pico Curies per liter; manganese 0.72 milligrams per liter; methane, 16,000 micrograms per liter.
Stroud did not provide data to establish what is a normal or abnormal range for these substances.
Stroud said in an interview that the DEP has tested her well water and to date has provided partial results of the testing. The DEP's test results showed the barium level in the Strouds' well water was a little higher than the level found by Benchmark Analytics, according to Stroud.
The DEP declined to release the results of its testing of the Strouds' water to The Daily Review.
However, Stroud did fax a copy of the DEP's test results to The Review.
The DEP's test results showed that the amount of barium in the Strouds' well water was 4.77 and the amount of strontium in their well water was 7.83, but no units were provided for those amounts by the DEP.
Stroud said that after three days of phone calls to Chief, she was finally able to speak to a Chief employee named Richard Adams.
"Since three weeks ago when all this transpired, I have still not seen a Chief representative at my home nor have I received a phone call," Stroud told the commissioners. "I have however had people hang up on me and tell me that they would pass on the information, never returning my calls. My well still has not been vented (with methane levels of 32.4 mg/L) nor have I been offered water or a water buffalo (from Chief).
"I have gone door to door around my neighborhood warning people about my well contamination, hoping to prevent this from happening to someone else," she said. "Every neighbor I have talked to has problems with their water but they have not called anyone to test it. I was told that there is known methane migration (in the area) and had one neighbor tell me that he can now light his water on fire, but that he isn't drinking it. (He is) only 'making coffee with it.'"
After reading her statement to the commissioners, Bradford County Commissioner Mark Smith said "I spent yesterday at the Marcellus Shale Commission trying to do the same thing you're doing here, trying to get some attention to Bradford County and what's going on."
When asked for comment, Chief Oil & Gas spokesman Kristi Gittins said:
"I am not sure why Ms. Stroud would say that Chief has not called her back or been out to the site, because that is not a true statement.
"We take all calls regarding water issues seriously and, in fact, we have talked to Ms. Stroud on more than one occasion and have been out to her home and are working with DEP to provide information for their investigation.
"Chief offered water to the Strouds but were told that her husband had already installed a new tank and system.
"Chief's Andrus well has only been drilled and none of the chemical compounds or metals Ms. Stroud references were used in drilling the Andrus well. At this point, the well is just a drilled hole that has been cased and cemented. No frac fluids of any kind have gone in or out of the Andrus well. It has not been 'fracked,'" Gittins said.
Stroud said in an interview that her father had arranged for a private company to provide her family with water and a water buffalo.
She told the commissioners that she will always have to use "some type of a water buffalo" for her family's water.
And she said she would probably be lucky to be able to sell her home for $10,000 or $20,000.
She said that her son has been tested for the presence of lead, and that the test result was normal.
She said that son and husband were tested over the past several days for the presence of barium, strontium and other contaminants. Their test results are not yet available.
She said she fell ill two weeks after the drilling of the Andrus well, which took place in March. Benchmark Analytics tested her well water four to five days after the Andrus well was drilled, she said.
James Loewenstein can be reached at (570) 265-1633; or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.