Every time I drive or walk down West Main, or out to Espy, or to Town Park, I am struck first by the staggering damage flooding and endless rain can cause, and second by the resilience, tenacity, and generosity of Bloomsburg’s people, especially in a crisis, who have volunteered their time, energy, and dollars to help folks they don’t even know. I know why I love my town: the sheer contrast of one lightless, rain-soaked, morning drive to the elementary school shelter compared to so many I’ve taken down a Main Street glowing with life is indelibly stamped onto my memory, onto my very understanding of what it means to live in this beautiful region as a resident of its “only town.”
As we quickly learned, the crisis of these past weeks only began with the 32.7 ft. rise of the Susquehanna, the flooding of Fishing Creek, etc. The real crisis is what follows, some of it stunningly visible—like houses washed off their foundations and cavernous gullies cut through paved streets—some of it’s quite invisible, at least at first. This latter comes in the form of health hazards like mold, like exposure to toxins and other forms of industrial waste polluting the Susquehanna and its tributaries. Dawning rubber gloves, FEMA footwear, and masks became de rigueur for anyone mucking basements, tearing down saturated drywall, or getting the toxic-sludged remains of folks photo albums and Christmas ornaments to the curb—a job as heart-breaking as it is dangerous. And dangerous it is. In a May 17, 2011 report, American Rivers , a non-partisan advocate for our waterways, reports the Susquehanna is the most endangered river in the country. In addition to the massive industrial, medical, and household waste already demonstrably present in the shiny sludge with which we’re familiar, waste fluids from hydraulic fracturing—fracking—threaten further contamination:
- “…limited facilities for treating the highly toxic wastewater that results from the extraction process and few government regulations to prevent it from seeping into rivers like the Susquehanna, which provides drinking water for more than six million people.”
- “In the Marcellus Shale region in Pennsylvania alone, drilling companies were issued approximately 3,300 gas-well permits in 2009 compared with 117 in 2007.”
- “…ground water pollution in Susquehanna County resulting in loss of a community’s drinking water, a blowout in Bradford County that went uncontrolled, allowing toxic fracking chemicals to flow into the Susquehanna…”
- “A natural gas well blew out during fracking operations, sending thousands of gallons of toxic fluid — containing hazardous chemicals, some potentially cancer-causing — over fields and into Towanda Creek, which feeds the Susquehanna River and supplies water for millions of people in the area.”
What will the next flood be like? The one that happens once fracking is in full-swing as I’ve detailed in my previous three letters? Can we really afford to be scraping THAT sludge off our salvageables? Are we willing to brook THAT for the few jobs that will come of the gas boom? What adds insult to injury—what makes it personal—is that an industry poised to make billions from something that offers us little but cancer, destroyed property values, obliterated roads and bridges, and community division—brags on its propaganda website—The Marcellus Shale Coalition—about corporate donations to communities affected by Hurricane Lee. A million dollars total from eleven corporations compared to Chesapeake’s Aubry McClendon’s $112.5 million take-home pay last year—the biggest CEO package in the U.S.—should leave us nothing but cold. If we don’t muster our collective voices and demand fracking be BANNED, we’ll won’t just be cold. We’ll be fools.
Wendy Lynne Lee | Professor of Philosophy, Bloomsburg University