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Environmentalists, residents meet with wariness of potential ethane cracker plant

Ohio Valley residents are rallying to call attention to potential health hazards tied to looming natural gas infrastructure.

Ohio Valley residents are rallying to call attention to potential health hazards tied to looming natural gas infrastructure.

As the decision for an ethane cracker plant approaches this fall, environmental researchers and activists led a meeting Wednesday night encouraging residents to stay proactive.

Environmentalists and residents from all over Ohio and West Virginia met in Moundsville. Their concerns? That environmental regulators, the government and the natural gas companies themselves won't do enough to protect air and water quality.

The Environmental Protection Agency said the industrialized energy hub region along the Mississippi River has the highest cancer rate of residents exposed to airborne pollution. Activists fear the Ohio Valley could play host to similar statistics if an ethane cracker plant and other natural gas infrastructure start operations.

"We're asking to at least know more information about what's being planned in this area and have a say in it,” said Lea Harper, director of the Freshwater Accountability Project in Grand Rapids, Ohio.

Harper said in the wake of the EPA's relaxing regulatory standards, watchdogs have fewer tools to enforce pollution violations against natural gas companies.

"We are going to demand that we get better protections and we're not going to stop. Because we do know that there's already been plenty of people who have been sickened by fracking and compressor stations and all the toxic radioactive waste of this industry,” Harper said.

Harper said residents who are close to gas infrastructure should consider tracking air and water quality with their own monitoring.

"This is a valley. This isn't the Gulf of Mexico. There's inversions. Seventy miles upstream, there's a cracker plant being built,” Harper said. “We don't need another one here."

Harper encouraged residents to stay engaged with their county commissioners and local government. The EPA has yet to schedule an air permit hearing for the Belmont County ethane cracker plant.

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