West Chester Area and Downingtown Area School Districts Call for Risk Assessment of Pipelines

West Chester Area and Downingtown Area School Districts Call for Risk Assessment of Pipelines

WEST CHESTER, PA —  Two Chester County School Districts with schools located near the Mariner East pipeline project have expressed concerns regarding the project’s safety and appealed to Governor Wolf for a comprehensive independent risk assessment, according to State Senator Andy Dinniman.

The superintendents of both the West Chester Area School District (WCASD) and Downingtown Area School District (DASD) wrote to Wolf almost two months ago, but have indicated to Dinniman that they have yet to receive a response.

<<Read the WCASD letter here.>>

<<Read the DASD letter here. >>

“The bottom line is our schools, parents, students, teachers, and staff deserve clear answers about the risks associated with this pipeline project and what to do in the event of an emergency,” Dinniman said. “The fact that we still can’t get straight answers about potentially life-and-death scenarios from our state government, including the very agency responsible for pipeline safety — the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission — is extremely alarming. One has to wonder whether they have answers.”

In a letter to Wolf dated March 29th, WCASD Superintendent Jim Scanlon wrote, “The WCASD has four (4) buildings within 3000 feet of the pipeline and more than 25,000 residences living on or near the pipeline. For the past 18 months our school district administration and staff have been working with Chester County Emergency Management First Responders and have developed safety protocol in the event of a pipeline breach . . . Without a comprehensive risk assessment, it is difficult to measure our plan against potential risks if we don’t know what they are.”

Scanlon also said the study “should include viable worse case evacuation routes, enhanced safety and safety training for first responders; and separation of pipelines from existing residences, schools, and businesses by a distant deemed safe.”

In a letter to Wolf dated April 16th, DASD Superintendent Emilie M. Lonardi said she started hearing complaints and concerns from parents about the pipeline shortly after she began as superintendent last July.

According to Lonardi, the Mariner East 2 project is approximately 500 feet from one of their middle schools. Lionville Middle School (986 students) is located in a campus-like setting, next to Downingtown East High School (1,788 students), and nearby Lionville Elementary School (674 students). The pipeline is also reasonably close to two other Downingtown schools.

“The safety of our students is of utmost concern to our Board, Parents, and me. I ask, as part of the Integrity Management Plan, that you conduct a comprehensive independent risk assessment study regarding the construction of the new pipeline. The study should include evacuation routes, evacuation procedures, detection equipment, safety training for first responders, as well as, an analysis and recommendation for the appropriate distance of the pipeline from schools to ensure safe evacuation, if needed,” she wrote. “Once we fully understand the risks, we will update our school safety protocols to create the safest environment possible for our students and staff.”

Dinniman said he has heard from hundreds of parents, including those of students attending non-public and parochial schools near the pipeline’s path, expressing similar concerns.

“I shudder to think what would occur in the event of a pipeline emergency. Remember, these pipelines, one of which is 87 years old, are carrying highly-volatile compounds such as butane, ethane, and propane, through an area which is known to be geologically problematic and potentially unstable,” Dinniman said. “That is precisely why I filed a petition for emergency relief with the PUC.”

Last week PUC Administrative Law Judge Elizabeth Barnes granted the petition and sided with Dinniman, shutting down operation of the Mariner East 1 pipeline and prohibiting construction of the Mariner East 2 and Mariner East 2X pipelines in West Whiteland Township.

In fact, in her order, Barnes cited that, “Two large school districts have asked Governor Wolf what to do in an emergency . . . [and that] Sunoco’s Pipeline Safety expert did not know how people unable to run away from a vapor cloud should respond to such an incident.”

She also noted, “Sunoco may have given safety pamphlets to 66,000 people along the 350-mile route, and to schools within .5 miles of the pipe. However, given that vapor clouds can move depending on weather conditions and people are mobile within their communities, this is insufficient.”

In addition, Barnes ordered Sunoco to:

  • Create for the public an integrity management program, risk analysis and other information required to warn and protect the public from danger and to reduce the hazards to which the public may be subjected.
  • Report its emergency response plan, practices and procedures including how it intends to coordinate with fire, police, PEMA, PHMSA, and State agencies in responding to a release or ignition of highly volatile liquids from its pipelines or appurtenances and whether its personnel will assist in evacuations.

Sunoco is appealing the emergency shutdown to the full, five-member PUC.

The PUC’s next meeting is scheduled for June 14.

Source: Andrew E. Dinniman (D), Pennsylvania State Senate, Senate District 19

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