Pennsylvania Parents Frightened by Gas Pipelines Underneath Elementary School

Kathy Boccella, Staff Writer with, reports:

Behind closed doors at Rose Tree Media school headquarters in Delaware County, the “safety summit” brought together district and township leaders, first responders, officials from Sunoco Logistics, and even Homeland Security to draw up school evacuation plans in the event of a catastrophic explosion or leak from the impending Mariner East 2 pipeline.

Not in the room — barred from attending, in fact — were the people whose growing anxiety and anger prompted the summit: a coalition of more than 2,700 elementary school parents and allies who fear their children won’t be able to get out of harm’s way should disaster strike the pipeline as it carries natural gas through their densely populated suburbs.

According to risk assessments commissioned by the coalition, a vapor-cloud leak can spread 1,800 feet in three minutes, and ignition of the gas can produce a fireball with a blast radius up to 1,100 feet that would burn until the pipeline is fully purged.

As many as 40 Pennsylvania schools would be in the potential “blast zone” if the line were to explode near them. Thousands of houses and facilities such as nursing homes also adjoin the route, but coalition founder Eve Miari said that worries about the schools have trumped other issues. “An elementary school is sort of like the heart center of the community,” she said. “It’s where we send our babies.”

In the last 20 years, there have been 11,462 pipeline incidents nationally with 324 deaths, 1,331 injuries, and $7 billion in damage, according to the [Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration], which also has general evacuation recommendations. Its Emergency Response Guideline calls for school officials to test the wind direction and move children on foot at least a half-mile upwind of the pipeline. Cars and cellphones cannot be used, for they could ignite leaked gas.

That sounds unworkable to Eric Friedman, a coalition member who lives near the pipeline route in Chester County. “I have not been able to come up with a real safety plan,” said Friedman, who has trained pilots and studied risk mitigation. “How would you have a real evacuation of hundreds of elementary kids on foot?”

“The safety plan is not credible,” said Nancy Harkins, of Westtown, also a coalition member. “Run a half-mile upwind and don’t use your cellphone? You can’t even use a door knocker because that could ignite it.”

Read the full article here.

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