Southwestern Pennsylvania women interviewed in a study by nursing professors at Duquesne University and two other schools showed a serious concern for health in the face of their changing environment. They also faced mental strain caused by a feeling of powerlessness.
These findings will be presented as part of the Boom & Bust conference on today and Tuesday at Duquesne’s Power Center.
The event will discuss economic, policy, health, environmental and other issues surrounding energy development.
A study by Dr. Leni Resick, clinical professor and director of the family nurse practitioner program in Duquesne’s School of Nursing, and collaborators at Frontier University in Washington, Pa., and Penn State University provides a starting point to address health concerns within impacted communities.
The July 2011 study, funded by the Sigma Theta Tau International Nursing Honor Society, Epsilon Phi Chapter, interviewed 14 women ages 35 to 89 in Washington, Greene and Fayette counties.
Although the researchers did not ask directly about Marcellus Shale drilling, the women brought up the topic in the series of two interviews. Some participants’ families are benefiting financially, but the women still reported sadness, helplessness and unhappiness that they were being forced from a generational way of life.
“The closer the women lived to a drilling site, the more powerless they felt over their immediate health and living space,” said Resick, who is familiar with " the dance between jobs/economic benefit and environmental issues" from growing up in Washington County.
In addition to learning about health-related issues and the women’s feeling about the need to buy cancer insurance, Resick uncovered a new mistrust in the community.
One woman related that she was accused of poisoning her elderly father because he was sick at home but improved in the hospital.
“I realized later that it was the contaminated well water at our home and I was the one encouraging him to drink” because he had a catheter. The neighbors knew the water had been contaminated but didn’t mention it, she told Resick.
Resick, who has studied Iraqi refugees, said she finds a similar mindset shared by the refugees and these women. “These are refugees who can’t leave,” Resick said. “There’s nowhere for them to go.”
In examining this topic further, Resick will collaborate with Dr. Michael Irwin, chair of Duquesne’s sociology department. They plan to examine impacts of drilling related to environmental justice and vulnerable populations, evaluating the impact of out-of-state workers and in-state migrations.
“One of the interesting things about the Marcellus issue is it’s not environment vs. industry,” said Irwin, a demographer. “Prior to this drilling, natural gas was extracted in the area, and you have the overlay of economic decline. The real outcomes for people are complicated.”
The purpose of the Boom & Bust conference, Irwin said, is to help work through the complications. “The conference will bring together a mix of view from practitioners, local governments, academics and nonacademics, hoping to build networks and an information exchange that might normally not occur,” he said.
Want more information? More on the Boom & Bust conference is available at www.duq.edu/boomandbust.