A certified thermographer said Thursday she hoped to give residents in Plum’s Rustic Ridge neighborhood some peace of mind by volunteering to use hydrothermic technology to look for possible gas leaks in homes.
Christina Digiulio of Chester County visited Rustic Ridge and offered to use a hydrocarbon imaging camera to detect natural gas lines in homes after the fatal Aug. 12 blast in the neighborhood.
“What I can do is show people what they can’t see with their eyes,” she said.
Digiulio, a former analytic chemist with the Department of Defense, is a field scientist for Physicians for Social Responsibility, a nonprofit environmental advocacy group. She ran as the Green Party’s candidate for governor in 2022.
Digiulio previously performed water testing after a Mariner East pipeline was installed in eastern Pennsylvania. She opposed that project. She now uses forward looking infrared optical gas imaging to identify hydrocarbon leaks at natural gas well sites, compressor stations and liquid natural gas terminals.
Plum resident Rachael “Renzy” Neffshade suggested Digiulio offer her services to Rustic Ridge in an effort to give residents some additional clarity.
“As a Plum resident, I am aware of things like abandoned mines. … So having them come and do a deep dive into things, it helps me get a better peace of mind,” said Neffshade, who said she lives about 3 miles from the Rustic Ridge plan.
In Rustic Ridge, Digiulio checked natural gas infrastructure going into homes, meters and connections to see if there were any hydrocarbons escaping. She said 50 people had signed up to have Digiulio image their homes, she said.
“I did explosives detection, so I understand the trauma people go through after,” she said.
As of noon, Digiulio had not found any issues in homes. She said if she were to find any issues, she would notify Peoples natural gas company.
“Our purpose is to say, this needs attention,” said Tammy Murphy, advocacy director of Physicians for Social Responsibility, who was on the scene Thursday with Digiulio.
Peoples spokesman Nick Paradise did not offer comment on Digiulio’s work. He reiterated an Aug. 25 statement from the company that said the utility had not received any reports of natural gas odor on Aug. 12 or in the prior week. It also found that the levels of mercaptan, the odorant added to natural gas, is within the normal range.
During an inspection of the roughly 230 homes’ service lines in Rustic Ridge, Peoples found two leaks it described as “minor.” Equipment and pipelines overseen by the government were not, and are not, leaking, the statement said, and the pressure in its system was, and continues to be, at normal levels.
On Aug. 12, the home at 141 Rustic Ridge, owned by Paul and Heather Oravitz, exploded. Six people died as a result of the blast: both Oravitzes; next-door neighbor Michael Thomas; friend Kevin Sebunia; and father and son Casey and Keegan Clontz.
The houses on both sides of the blast burned down; 10 houses in the area were deemed uninhabitable, at least for now, because they were so badly damaged. It has not been determined how many of those homes may be able to be repaired and lived in again.
The Allegheny County Fire Marshal’s Office continues to investigate a cause and origin of the blast.
Last week, Olympus Energy of Cecil Township donated 250 gas detectors for the neighborhood. A Multi-Agency Resource Center was established Aug. 24 for impacted residents.
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