Publishing note: This article was supported by funding from the Pittsburgh Media Partnership. It is the second in a series on pollution and misinformation in Greater Pittsburgh from a consortium of outlets including Allegheny Front, Ambridge Connection, The Incline, Mon Valley Independent, Pittsburgh City Paper, Pittsburgh Independent and Pittsburgh Union Progress. Read the first in the series in the Pittsburgh Independent and stay tuned for more.
As Greater Pittsburgh residents fume over ongoing poor air quality, locals documenting their lived experiences with pollution have propelled demands for answers. These grassroots scientists are filling in gaps in the media landscape and compiling a growing body of evidence for the benefit of regulators who keep tabs on high-emissions facilities, among them Shell’s Potter Township chemical plant.
Pollution events such as the Norfolk Southern derailment in East Palestine, OH have newly alerted some Beaver County residents to the inherent dangers of local industries, but residents including South Heights local Bob Schmetzer were already wary. Recent flaring events at Shell added to his fear of catastrophic health impacts. Schmetzer, a volunteer with the Beaver County Marcellus Awareness Community, says the combination of combustible rail shipments and vulnerable petrochemical infrastructure could prove deadly, as it nearly did in 2018.
“People need to get a grip on this,” he says. “We’re living in a dangerous area.”