by Stephanie Scobey, 2017-2018 Extern
In September of last year, I joined MdEHN as the 2017 extern and during my experience have had a crash course in the environmental aspects of health. My background as an acute care nurse of eight years has been instrumental in my work as it is a continuation of my desire to improve the health of those around me.
As I began to navigate a new world of “enviros” I was introduced to world of Natural Gas Infrastructure, or NGI, and began to discover the impact it was having on communities across the state of Maryland. As a healthcare provider, I feel strongly that it is my duty to empower people to advocate for their health. It is because of this passion that the team at MdEHN and I worked together to develop the NGI Citizen Science Project.
This project has given me the opportunity to travel across the beautiful state of Maryland, sharing the power of citizen science tools with communities grappling with NGI. In November 2017, I spent two crisp days exploring Garrett County with Community of Communities members Annie Bristow and Linda Herdering. During that trip I shared two amazing home cooked meals with Annie and Linda’s families, and was able to present for 15 minutes to the commissioners of the Garrett County Board of Health on the project. I gave a brief overview of two tools developed by MdEHN partners, the FracTracker App and the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project’s Health Registry. I fielded questions from community members and health department employees. At the end of the meeting, I asked the commissioners to add links to both tools to the health department’s recently updated website, to make them more accessible to community members.
In December, I traveled to Calvert County to give another set of presentation. During this meeting, I spent two hours educating the community and answering questions related to these amazing tools. This group was extremely excited and engaged throughout the entire presentation and discussion. Prior to the presentation many participants downloaded the app and I was able to guide them as they began to familiarize themselves with these tools.
While the content presented to both communities was the same, the response and feedback were distinctly different. The citizens of Garrett County have lived with NGI for decades. They are used to the sounds, sights, and smells associated with this infrastructure.
As such, Garrett County is focused on pressuring industry to share their information and plans in an honest and transparent way. These are challenges that are specific to Garrett County and Accident, Maryland. At first, the participants were concerned as to how these tools could be helpful to this community. I shared the struggles occurring in Calvert County, and expanded on the importance of collecting data from different communities at differing stages of their battle with NGI.
In future presentations of this type I will be thoughtful about the relative value of cloud based data collection to differing communities, as rural Marylanders may face unique and important barriers such as access to the internet.
My presentation to the Calvert Citizens for a Healthy Community (CCHC) was an entirely different experience. I had two full hours to share these tools with the community in an intimate and casual environment. The community members are actively fighting a compressor station at Cove Point, and they are deeply engaged and resistant to NGI. Upon making my presentation, they were excited to have new tools to utilize in their fight against NGI. It was heartwarming to be able to support this community in their journey.
Just this week, I received an email a week after the Calvert County presentation updating me on how things were going. This community is enthusiastic about these tools and has already begun to use FracTracker to document incidents in their town.
Annie and Linda continue to work with the Garrett County health department, and our next step is to follow up with them about making the website additions. Keep in mind, these presentations are given primarily to audiences with no exposure to FracTracker or the Health Registry.
It is my hope that these presentations will continue to empower citizens and have an exponential impact on communities throughout Maryland. I have plans to give additional presentations in Prince George’s County in January and February and can’t wait to learn even more from these communities over the next few months.