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Along Mariner East, residents at risk and in the dark

The Investigator

Your guide to the Capitol & stories holding the powerful to account

Oct. 15, 2020 | spotlightpa.org

When we launched Spotlight PA more than a year ago, our goal was to tell the big stories that other newsrooms didn't have the time or bandwidth to dig into. Today, we delivered with a major investigation into one of the most controversial projects in Pennsylvania's history: the Mariner East pipelines.

Investigative reporter Rebecca Moss spent a year traveling the pipeline, conducting dozens of interviews, and reviewing hundreds of pages of documents to reveal that secrecy and a patchwork of emergency plans have left many communities in the dark about what to do in case of an accident.

That’s in large part because pipeline operators have withheld critical safety information from the public with little oversight by the state, Moss found. This is not a story intended to stoke fear; the risk of a fatal accident is low. But the nature and amount of the chemicals running through these lines, and their proximity to some highly populated areas, pose a unique challenge for the state and those in charge of planning for a worst-case scenario.

Throughout construction, the operator, Sunoco, has faced a litany of environmental and other violations and fines, which for some residents has undermined the presumption that the system is perfectly safe.

That track record, coupled with Sunoco's secrecy around key details of the system's "blast zone" and evacuation plans, have left many unable to answer one pressing question: Are we prepared for an accident?

» This is the kind of original, deeply reported investigative journalism you can support by becoming a member of Spotlight PA. Every dollar you contribute goes straight back into our public-service newsroom. Donate today.

Christopher Baxter of Spotlight PA


"This is not a partisan issue. This does not give an advantage to the Democrats nor an advantage to the Republicans."

Bucks County Commissioner Gene DiGirolamo on the need for lawmakers to pass a bill allowing counties to start processing mail-in ballots before Election Day

Latest on COVID-19

 Health Secretary Rachel Levine said Wednesday the state is "at the start of the fall resurgence" as we see the highest case counts since mid-April. There are 36 counties showing a rising daily case trend, and hospitalizations are increasing, too, according to our live coronavirus tracker.

» Follow the latest state data with our coronavirus tracker, and sign up for weekly alerts with the latest data localized for your county

More from Spotlight PA

» Interactive: Explore the Mariner East pipeline system and its history
» Everything Pa. poll watchers can — and can’t — do on Election Day
» To jumpstart relief, Wolf gives landlords more flexibility to collect unpaid rent
» House GOP leadership calls on lawmaker to resign over vulgar videos
» Pa. GOP drops effort to create ‘election integrity’ panel with subpoena power

Here’s what you need to know about Pa.’s ‘fall resurgence’ of COVID-19

Coronavirus cases in Pennsylvania are rising, marking the start of what Health Secretary Rachel Levine is calling a “fall resurgence.” Today was the 10th straight day the state reported more than 1,000 new cases, numbers we haven't consistently seen since mid-April. 

During a Wednesday news conference in Harrisburg, officials said the bump was expected as gathering restrictions were eased, cooler weather prompted more people to gather indoors, and schools, businesses, and universities ramped up operations. 

“There’s no way to know exactly what the peak will be in terms of the spring versus now,” Levine said. 

Officials say we’re still better off than we were in the spring. 

The state’s hospitals are prepared to handle an influx in patients, facilities have enough personal protective equipment, testing capacity has expanded, and contact tracing is more robust, Levine said. 

There are more than 1,500 contact tracers from 150 organizations already working across the state, officials said. Of that total, the state has hired 790 paid employees and plans to hire an additional 210 paid staff by the end of October.

Contact tracing efforts haven’t linked the spread of the virus to specific events, Levine said. But data does show that new cases are mostly among people over 20 and under 50, and transmission seems to be happening at small gatherings, she added. 

Another lockdown? Not yet. 

“We have no plans to have any further business restrictions or stay-at-home orders at this time,” Levine said. “It’s impossible for me to predict the future.”

There are also no plans at this time to change guidelines for K-12 schools, Levine said. Local school boards and administrators have the power to decide if in-person or remote learning is right for their district, she said. 

Flu season has arrived. Here’s what officials say you need to do. 

Officials urged all Pennsylvania residents older than six months to get a flu shot as soon as possible. Flu activity is currently low across the state, though the season has just begun and runs through May. It causes many of the same symptoms as the coronavirus, including fever, cough, shortness of breath, stuffy nose, and body aches.

Officials encouraged residents to adopt the same precautions used to prevent the spread of the coronavirus: cover coughs and sneezes, keep surfaces clean, wash your hands, stay home if you feel sick, and wear a mask when you go out.

Jamie Martines of Spotlight PA

» YOU'RE INVITED: Register now for our upcoming live interview with Secretary of the Commonwealth Kathy Boockvar on ensuring a fair and accurate election in Pennsylvania. You can also submit your questions.

From across the state

» A Lancaster city police officer will not be charged in the fatal shooting of 27-year-old Ricardo Muñoz, LNP | LancasterOnline reports. “Based on my review of the facts and the applicable law, there is no question, no question, that the officer was justified in the use of deadly force," Lancaster County District Attorney Heather Adams said on Wednesday.

» Second Lady Gisele Fetterman was the subject of a racist attack in a grocery store this week, The Philadelphia Inquirer reports. Fetterman said she was yelled at by a woman, told she doesn't "belong here,” and repeatedly called a racial slur, part of which she recorded and posted to Twitter.

» State Rep. Tina Pickett has raked in more campaign cash than any of her colleagues in the House, thanks to the insurance industry. A review conducted by The Morning Call found that Pickett’s $268,546.49 cash balance in late May was “inflated by a years-long influx of insurance industry cash that began when Pickett became chairwoman of the House Insurance Committee in 2013.”

More good reads

» AP: Judge throws out Trump campaign’s Pennsylvania lawsuit

» CAPITAL-STAR: Top Democrat lawmaker took $600k from school choice donor 

» INQUIRER: Utilities can soon cut off nonpaying customers, poorest customers protected

» MORNING CALL: Fraud may cause more obstacles for those seeking unemployment

» POST-GAZETTE: Police training drills at Butler VA threatened safety of veterans

» PUBLIC SOURCE: Emails show Pa. AG employees signed up for facial recognition trial

» STATE IMPACT: Climate change could shift Pa.’s wildfire season

» WESA: Without state rules, how parents learn about COVID-19 cases varies by district

» WHYY: Tough questioning at hearing on Pa. ban of Medicaid funding for abortion

Yaasmeen Piper of Spotlight PA

Send your answers to riddler@spotlightpa.org.

FAMILY TREE (Case No. 60): Mr. and Mrs. Martini had seven daughters, and each daughter had one brother. How many people total are in the Martini family?
Stumped? Get a hintFeeling smart? Challenge a friend.

Last week's answer: Yesterday, today, and tomorrow
Congrats to Paul H., who will receive Spotlight PA swag. Others who have answered correctly: Don H., Barbara W., Bob S., Claudia M., Joseph S., Eileen D., Karen B., Burnetta S., Lynda G., Hagan H., Deborah D., George S., Michael H., John D., Dennis F., Joan C., Gerry W., Joel S., Rick S., Lois P., Jim A., Jeffery F., Marjorie S., Roseanne D., Melanie B., Mary B., Beth T., Jason C., Kenneth J., Dorothy K., Jean S., Lou R., and Jon N.
» This week's Riddler hint: All for one?

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