*UPDATED: This story was updated at 9:40 a.m. to reflect the DEP's response.
A couple dozen children and parents gathered in Irvine Park in downtown Beaver Tuesday morning, to play with a giant parachute, toss beach balls, play tag and hula hoop.
Believe it or not, it was a protest of sorts – a “play-in” – according to Patrice Tomcik, a field organizer with Moms Clean Air Force.
“There’s nothing stronger than a parent’s love for their children," she said. "That’s why we are here, and the play-in is showing how wonderful and alive and healthy our children are, and we want them to stay that way."
Irvine Park is about 2 miles away from the petrochemical plant Shell plans to build in Potter Township, at the site of a now closed zinc smelter.
Tomcik and other parents are particularly concerned about the pollutants that could be released by the ethane cracker, which include nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, particulate matter and volatile organic compounds, one of the key ingredients in smog.
“What we want is air monitors that are placed around the edge of the property to alert the communities if there happens to be an issue with pollution coming off of there,” Tomcik said.
Tomcik said they would like the Potter Township board of supervisors to push Shell to install air quality monitors around the perimeter of the property, but board chair Rebecca Matsco said the body has no influence in the matter.
The state Department of Environmental Protection did not require fence-line monitoring when it approved Shell’s air quality permit. DEP officials declined to answer questions asking why such monitoring wasn’t required.
Aaron Jacob-Smith is an attorney with the Clean Air Council, which along with the Environmental Integrity Project, is suing the DEP over its failure to require fence line monitoring at the plant.
“We have not gotten a good sense of why DEP would not require this and has put essentially zero pressure on Shell to implement these types of technologies,” he said. “It’s actually been quite disappointing.”
Beaver resident Mary Anne Peluso said DEP officials have pointed to that litigation as the reason why they can’t answer her questions about potential air pollutants and air quality monitoring strategies for the plant. She said they have told her that it won't be any worse than when the zinc smelter was operational, something she said she's tired of hearing.
“This is our chance to improve. It’s like Pittsburgh. I grew up in Pittsburgh, we had all the steel mills, air quality was horrible but we’ve had a chance to improve it and they’ve done it," she said. "We have a chance to improve our air quality here, let’s do it.”
A Shell spokesperson said in an email “emissions would be subject to regular monitoring, reporting and ongoing regulatory oversight,” but did not provide any details.