Photo of the James River by Heidi Dhivya Berthoud 2009


We offer our findings to other beleaguered communities struggling to keep up while defending themselves against the ravages of any polluting industry. In a sane world, we would have only clean green industry and jobs, where the permitting process for all proposed projects were required to be honestly reviewed by comprehensive cumulative environmental, economic and health impact assessments, and across county, and state lines [applicable in this case]. We would see clearly the immediate and cumulative long range costs of the entirety of a project [not piecemeal, allowing to fracture communities, divide and conquer] to our physical and mental health, our air, water, land, culture, history and economies.

Proposers of projects would have to account for all these costs to all impacted communities combined. Currently industry further benefits from extensive corporate welfare, which taxpayers fund. Industry has captured our regulatory agencies, our governments, permitting long lasting, devastating pollution for which we, the people have to pay for in many hidden and unaccounted for costs.

Thus we took on this project of baseline testing to defend and protect what we love – clean air, water, community, culture, history, healthy local economy, from a very broken system. Good government, for and by the people, is for looking out for all of our welfare, not just the wealthy. Industry inherently only looks out for itself, and its bottom line, thus can be a parasite unchecked on our world.

Fortunately… there is one [lonesome] public health department that has done comprehensive testing, and for a ‘mere’ 12,000 hp compressor station [CS] in Madison County, NY. We conferred extensively with Director, Eric Faisst. He is generously willing to share with anyone. There were a number of harmonic convergences that allowed for Mr Faisst to accomplish this feat. First, and importantly, 2 members of the county board of supervisors requested it! We, here in Buckingham can only imagine… Mr Faisst has a background in Environmental Public Health. Having worked on Indian Reservations, with the devastations that happen there, he was impassioned and motivated. In New York, local health departments have more power [than our system in Virginia] to make large decisions like this. For funding, he cobbled together various sources. He said the cost of his program was around $250-300,000…

Three years ago Friends of Buckingham began researching baseline testing [pre-construction assessments] in the event that the proposed 42″ high pressure Atlantic Coast Pipeline and 57,000 hp+ Buckingham compressor station [CS] would be built. In 2018 we received 2 grants to help us with a comprehensive study of our current conditions, for which to compare to post construction testing, which would show how we’ve been affected. This work provides scientific and legally defensible evidence for impacted residents and our community. Significantly, this also contributes to the growing body of documentation of environmental and health affects of the oil and gas industry, and thus has a contribution to thwarting the global climate crisis. For more extensive information on the research I did please go to:

Baseline Testing: a compilation of resources.

Baseline Testing for Well Water

To present our findings, we had a community dinner and meeting at the end of June, 2019. You can view a video on YouTube here. Heidi Dhivya Berthoud, project manager, presents an overview first and Lisa Lefferts presents water testing findings in the second half.

First Circle of Protection gathering, Buckingham CS site March 18, 2018

Well Water Testing

We tested 30 sites across the length of the 26 miles of proposed pipeline in Buckingham County. Lisa Lefferts, a public health/environmental health scientist and impacted resident of Nelson County (whose day job is senior scientist for the independent non-profit advocacy group, Center for Science in the Public Interest), developed a list of parameters and chemicals to test for. She created legally defensible testing and sampling protocols (after consulting with a lawyer and scientists, including DEQ scientists) and interviewed and assessed potential laboratories and sampling professionals to do the sample collection and analysis. This culminated in a draft contract negotiated with a laboratory certified by our state [Virginia Environmental Laboratory Accreditation Program (VELAP)] specifying general requirements, quality control/quality assurance, sample custody requirements, sample collection protocol, and sample analysis specifications, including specific contaminants and other parameters. See a sample contract here: Sample water testing Statement of Work 7-11-19

To find a laboratory certified in your state, go to:

Contact Information for Certification Programs and Certified Laboratories for Drinking Water

The state Extension Service offers informational water testing, which covers 14 parameters and currently costs $60, but Lisa thought this was not appropriate for our purposes of establishing a baseline that was legally defensible. Water testing is usually the most expensive part of a baseline project [for the homeowner]. We looked at other more comprehensive water testing package options. Our project cost about $600 per site, including the sampling, and covered over 90 parameters, a quarter of the cost of one reputable and recommended outfit just for the testing. Another lab Lisa considered charged $100 more for the base list of 87 contaminants. Other firms Lisa contacted for the sampling wanted between twice and over ten times as much, and thousands of dollars for documentation.

For an article on the protocol we developed see Friends of Buckingham post:
Baseline Testing for Well Water

We give thanks for a local foundation, who wishes to remain anonymous, for almost $30,000 to cover the water testing and complete the entire baseline project.

Well Water Testing Results

Lisa provided an analysis of baseline water testing results with recommendations and explanations of findings, including identification of relevant federal and state health-based limits for comparison to results. We used federal drinking water standards where available, and where those were lacking for specific chemicals, we used U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Health Advisories, or guidelines developed by states (e.g., Massachusetts, Wisconsin).

Summary Baseline Well Water Test Results 8-17-19

1-15 FoB BaselineWaterTesting_Results 7-15-19

16-30 BaselineWaterTesting Results 7-15-19

For additional information see:

Two participants in FoB testing shared with us the results of the testing that Dominion did on their well water. Dominion testing would in no way be sufficient to protect the community or provide an adequate baseline against which to compare water quality post-construction. Their testing isn’t nearly as comprehensive or as sensitive (i.e., their detection limits were much higher) compared to ours. For example, Dominion tested 33 parameters, versus our 90+. They did test for a few things that we did not, but we tested for many things they didn’t.  The lab they used is certified, but (currently) certified for far fewer chemicals than is the lab we used (though that could have changed since they did the testing).

You may wish to use this Excel spreadsheet template, ready to go for use and adaptation for your community’s testing compilations and comparisons. Note that the testing sites are numbered, de-linking the participants’ names for privacy. This spreadsheet includes the list of contaminants, our laboratory’s detection limits (yours may differ somewhat), the standards and guidelines we used for comparison, and definitions:

A Template_ WaterTestingResults 7-4-19

We also offer links to resources from Virginia Cooperative Extension for some common water quality issues and solutions: (Corrosive water) (Bacteria) (Inspecting your well – 10 tips) (Treatments) See especially pp. 8-9, a nice summary table (Iron and manganese)  (Sodium)

And see for additional resources.

Aerial Video footage of Buckingham CS site
and locality, and photo resources, thanks to Tom Burkett, River Healers Virginia Chapter, for your expert, brilliant work:

Union Hill drone video footage of Buckingham CS footprint and nearby homes

The Pipeline Compliance Surveillance Initiative [CSI] created an impressive mapping tool, that Mike Dowd, Director of the Air Division, DEQ, has said they are envious of [unfortunately – as this means they are ill equipped to monitor construction violations]. Go to:

Monitoring the ACP with Online Mapping.

The CSI Avenza Map Index is the overview map of the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline route from the West Virginia origins to Buckingham County, that shows the individual maps for specific-area downloads.

The two CSI maps that cover Buckingham are here:

We get by with a lot of help from our Water Spirit friends. Sun Sing Concert, Charlottesville April 26, 2019

Air Monitoring & Health Assessments Introduction

Four & more years ago, we learned from and leaned on the stellar work of Damascus Citizens for Sustainability, for their research and actions to protect Delaware River Watershed area from fossil fuel insults and specifically their research on compressor stations [CS].

We also have teamed up with Physicians for Social Responsibility, and helped create a whole new chapter! – the Chesapeake PSR. We thank PSR and friends for the now 6th edition of the “Compendium of Scientific, Medical, and Media Findings Demonstrating Risks and Harms of Fracking (Unconventional Gas and Oil Extraction)”, released in June, 2019.

We received a grant from New World Foundation for $10,000 to do a study around the proposed Buckingham compressor station neighborhood, also known as Union Hill/Woods Corner. That study began in May 2018. It was to monitor air, and health. We contracted with South West Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project (SWPA-EHP) for this project. Director Eric Faisst, of the Madison County, NY Public Health Department, mentioned above, worked with EHP to design their one of a kind comprehensive assessment of their 12,000 hp compressor station. Thus we engaged EHP’s assistance.

Along with other communities in Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio and California, we used EHP’s

Citizen Scientist Tool Kit.

The document is available here also:

Air Monitoring

Periodically compressor stations [CS] need to release pressure when it gets too high. These events are called blow downs, which shoot particulate matter, and toxic materials, including methane into the air. These blow downs are usually unannounced and unknown to people living in the area. Annual emissions are counted on an average basis so there might be a blow down one day with a high spike of emissions and very low count the next day.

Therefore we have tested and recorded the quality of the local air, quite clean, as most of us know, which was a bonus to the industry because of how regulatory agencies allow, thus permit certain amounts of pollutions which they deem healthy. I placed monitors inside and out of 8 homes, all around the CS. Speck monitors measured PM2.5 [particulate matter] and were in place for 32 days. Outside of 4 homes I placed Summa Canisters, hydrogen sulfide & formaldehyde badges, which were in place for 24 hours, and measured volatile organic compounds [VOC’s], testing for 69 chemicals.

If a source of air pollution is nearby, these conditions could cause increased exposure, and therefore health concerns for residents. Chemicals from the source may combine with the particulate matter and travel to the deep regions of the lungs to cause respiratory problems or gain access to other parts of the body through blood-gas exchange.

Some communities who have CS in place have won hard fought agreements with industry to be notified when blow downs occur. Nearby residents can then choose to stay closed up in their homes to limit exposures. That doesn’t much help the domestic animals and wildlife. Many blowdowns cannot be scheduled – they need to release pressure when they need to – to prevent explosions.

EHP reported the range of results of PM2.5 monitoring for five components measured (peaks per day, duration of peaks, time between peaks, baseline air quality, and accumulated particle matter) using the outdoor Speck monitor data. The results are shown in relation to the entire Speck monitor data reviewed, so far, at EHP from New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and California. VOC monitoring results were also reported. Recommendations were given as to how to reduce exposures. Please see attached SWPA-EHP “Your Community Air Quality Assessment Results.” EHP usually only provides reports to compare baselines to post construction results. Recommendations are included. Indoor monitoring results were communicated directly to the participating residents. There is no identification of participants involved.

EHP Union Hill Community Air Report 3.25.2019

Formaldehyde FAQs

Health Assessments (HA)

EHP gave us a Pre-construction Health Data Overview. This report summarizes the results of the EHP health survey and the Health and Wellbeing survey (also known as the SF36) conducted in 2018, before the potential construction of a nearby natural gas compressor station. All results are de-identified. A total of 23 HA were completed; 19 adults and 4 children.

Typically, EHP compares pre-construction health results to post-construction results. At our request, EHP provided an overview of these baseline results. Briefly, based on the Health and Wellbeing survey mental health scores, EHP says “this is a community with good social cohesiveness. Some physical health scores, though, are below normal.

The fact that a large environmental change may occur if the CS is built raises some concerns. In a small community it is important to maintain or improve cohesiveness and strength, as well as working to improve health status if possible.”

We find it concerning in light of EHP’s guidance to maintain or improve community cohesiveness and strength, that our community has been fractured by the 11th hour attention, and bribing from ACP Dominion. This is well documented, and all too common. The Native Tribes along the length of the ACP were also bribed, but with much less money.

Click here: Big company, big dollars, small community: Dominion deal sparks dissent in community facing gas project

Read between the lines of the apologies for the next article.

Click here: Document reveals effort to remove opposition of Native American tribes to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline

Important to note, is that part way through my work with the HA in the community, I experienced a pulling back in commitment to completing the HA. I eventually came to realize that some folks were confused about their alliances to the industry that was promising them money. This testing, of course, would be in their interest whether they are pro or con this pipeline. EHP reports this is all too common in all the communities they work with.

The majority of folks that did complete the HA were those who have been involved with the resistance all along. Other reasons for not participating are that the HA was lengthy, and many adults work long hours, even 2 jobs. Many that I approached still knew little about the CS, even after 4 years of FoB actions, working to educate ourselves and the community. This is largely an African American/Native American community, many descended from freed slaves who lived on the plantation Variety Shades, which is now the site for the proposed CS, making this clearly an Environmental Justice community. Most have no internet connection.

As stated above, a total of 23 HA were completed; 19 adults and 4 children. Eight people signed consent forms but did not complete HA: 6 adults, 2 children. I approached an additional 32 adults, 23 children without obtaining consent forms, nor HA’s completed. Thus the total number of residents approached, who did not complete HA were: 38 adults and 25 children. The total approached all together: 57 adults, 29 children; 86 people total. I had hoped to get a total of 20 completed HA. As it was easy going in the beginning, i readjusted my goal for 40 HA completed, but was not able to.

We know from FoB’s Union Hill Household Study, directed by Lakshmi Fjord, PhD, that there are more than 200 full time residents in the Union Hill neighborhood, [77 of 100 households reached] while that can increase by hundreds of visitors on the weekends and holidays and more for large summer family reunions.

UH Household Statistics Fjord 5-10-19

Fjord Union Hill Community Household Study 12-17-18 

Fjord Tech Site Insuitability +History 1-4-19

River Healers Virginia Chapter:  Compare above reports to this document of ACP demographics that were Census sourced

Please see articles on the case pending in the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit: Friends of Buckingham, et al. v. State Air Pollution Control Board, et al., involving the potential harms facing Union Hill, an African American community in Buckingham County, from the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline compressor station.

Surface Water

The ACP would make 37 stream crossings in Buckingham. There would be 7 floodplain crossings.

Hanuman helping me with my first pebble count at the South Fork of Ripley Creek May 27, 2018. We are 1 mile downstream from the origins of this creek, in wetlands on the CS site, which is just west of the Transco Pipeline junction with Rt 56 and the proposed ACP. This creek flows into the Slate River, next to the James River and on to the Chesapeake Bay…

We received training and equipment to monitor streams in May 2018, thanks to Trout Unlimited, Appalachian Voices, CSI – Pipeline Compliance Surveillance Initiative and ABRA, our umbrella organization – the Allegheny Blue Ridge Alliance. Ten of us in Buckingham got trained.

We are monitoring up to 14 sites in Buckingham. Karuna Howeth has the James River at Wingina & LOTUS Creek. I help Karuna with those and also monitor the James River at Wyland Rd, the South Fork of Ripley Creek [1 mile downstream from the wetlands on the CS site] and Mathews Creek [with Chad Oba]. Hanuman has Sycamore Creek and the North Fork of Ripley Creek. David Ball’s sites are Horsepen Creek, North River at Rt 60 crossing, Slate River. Marie Flowers & Red Bigelow have the Willis River, Little Willis River. Wiley monitors 2 sites on Lickey Branch.

The James River site at Wyland Rd in flood, February 25, 2019. My late, trusty assistant, Bhindu, 21 years old. I miss her dearly.

We monitor 1x/month and upload that data to – Comprehensive Citizen Science Support. was developed through the Natural Resources Ecology Lab (NREL) at Colorado State University as an initiative to promote citizen involvement in scientific research. Trout Unlimited and ABRA, CSI keep track of this data.

Chad Oba, doing her first pebble count on Mathews Creek, August 12, 2018. This creek flows to the North River, on to the Slate River, James River…


We welcome inquiries. This was a huge project for a grass roots organization to take on. We have experience, knowledge and wisdom to share with other assaulted communities, with hopes that we can help to spare you a good bit of work, especially with the water protocol that Lisa Lefferts created. Regardless, it will still be a huge undertaking, but when your lives are on the line, we hope that you’ll find the strength and resources to protect and defend what you too love.

Article by

Heidi Dhivya Berthoud
Secretary Friends of Buckingham
Baseline Testing Project Manager
Cell 434 979 9732
Land 434 969 1977


Pin It on Pinterest


Help spread the word!

Share this post with your friends!