More human testing needed

Dr. Lisa McKenzie (R) listens as Dr. John Hughes (L) responds to WSCOGA's Dave Ludlam's objections to his jokes aimed at the oil & gas industry. [Photo courtesy Rein van West]

Dr. Lisa McKenzie (R) listens as Dr. John Hughes (L) responds to WSCOGA’s Dave Ludlam’s objections to his jokes aimed at the oil & gas industry. [Photo courtesy Rein van West]

The health forum was a huge success with well over 100 in attendance. On behalf of me and the entire Tibbetts family, we thank Grand Valley Citizens Alliance and Battlement Mesa Concerned Citizens and everyone who attended what was a very informative public meeting.

We also thank Farm Fresh Café for the fabulous supper. Plus Parachute Library staff for the facility, Rifle Community TV for filming the event, and Four Mile Creek Bed & Breakfast for the door prize. In addition we thank Western Colorado Congress, Wolcott Family Foundation, and Aspen Skiing Environmental Foundation for their support.

Most of all, thank you Dr. McKenzie and Dr. Hughes for caring about public health and sharing your valuable research with everyone.

Dr. Lisa McKenzie, research associate at the Colorado School of Public Health, presented “The Battlement Mesa Health Impact Assessment: Past, present, and future.” She gave us the overview of the study from the beginning to when it was halted by the Garfield County Commissioners John Martin, Tom Jankovsky, & Mike Samson in May 2011. And she stressed the need to complete the study and take on more studies. She insisted we don’t know enough about long term impacts of oil & gas activity on public health.

Something I didn’t know about the study was that the researchers weren’t allowed to gather their own health statistics. Garfield County provided them, which was the county’s dictate.

The draft Battlement Mesa HIA is available at the Garfield County website, including public and industry comments.

Dr. John Hughes, Aspen Integrative Medicine, presented “Natural gas VOC emissions found in residents living near gas wells.” He conducted blood tests on eleven people in Erie Colorado, in 2013. Ten people tested positive for ethylbenzene, including a 16-year old girl who was suffering from chronic fatigue. At the same time he tested a control group in Carbondale. None of them tested positive for BTEXs.

More information here:
Carbondale residents get blood tested for drilling compounds
Fracking and its effects on public health still debatable

Next he talked about the Tibbetts family study which included blood and urine testing for me, my daughter Ema and granddaughter Hailey (12 years old). Hailey’s blood contained high levels of ethylbenzene. All three urine tests were positive for ethylbenzene, xylenes, and styrenes. Further testing of the urine samples revealed metabolites for all three compounds as well, which indicates a long term exposure, not a casual exposure.

More information here:
3 generations of oil and gas contamination

In an article in The Daily Sentinel, Drilling health effects debated at forum [subscribers only], Dennis Webb reported:

A doctor involved in testing that has found high levels of toxins in people living near oil and gas development suggested Wednesday that the best solution for affected residents is to sell their homes and leave the area.

“If I had a choice I would move,” Dr. John Hughes, a Roaring Fork Valley osteopath, said at a forum presented by the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance and Battlement Concerned Citizens.

This was more of an off-handed comment by Dr. Hughes, so it’s unfortunate that it’s the lead-in. Dr. Hughes’ certainly was not there to tell us all to sell our homes and move. He simply pointed out that as the situation exists today, if you don’t want your health to be negatively impacted by oil & gas drilling you would have to move away. There is no middle ground when it comes to public health.

Both Dr. Hughes and Dr. McKenzie stressed the need for more testing. And the need for more testing was definitely the take away message from this important meeting. Unless the state and the industry feel they know something which negates the need for more testing, I can’t imagine why they would not support human testing.

But some questioned the conclusions of his findings, and an industry representative took issue with the nature of some of Hughes’ comments. Hughes’ remarks included calling Gov. John Hickenlooper “Frackenlooper,” saying he was put in office by Encana, contending the industry was lying to the public, and calling for its ads to include information on health maladies he believes oil and gas development causes for nearby residents.

David Ludlam, executive director of the West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association, told Hughes, “The assumptions you make about our motivations are not accurate.”

He said some of Hughes’ comments were disparaging and insulting, and added, “I think it’s distracting to the overall constructive conversation that we need to have.”

Dr. Hughes’ effort to inject a little humor into his presentation was totally taken out of context in the article. And misunderstood by Dave Ludlam. So he was insulted. That’s not a stretch. Never mind the bombardment we endure constantly in the media extolling the virtues of fracking. The public health vs fracking debate is heating up in Colorado and it’s only going to get hotter through the summer. Perhaps Dave Ludlam needs to grow thicker skin.

As for people questioning the conclusions of Dr. Hughes’ findings, that wasn’t the feedback I was getting, or that we have been getting for the past 2 months. People weren’t skeptical of the conclusions – more like uncomfortable with the conclusions. It is disturbing – and for some people terrifying – to think they are being poisoned in their homes and communities. People are afraid to talk about their health problems. They are afraid they won’t be believed. Or worse, they will be ridiculed. There is a lot of fear and anger behind the suffering that goes on around here.

After all there are supposed to be government agencies – the CDPHE and EPA – whose job it is to make sure that industrial activity does not endanger public health and the environment. People wise up rather quickly when a drill rig is erected in a residential area that isn’t even zoned for a gas station. They recognize when local and state governments are not doing their jobs to protect citizens. The average person, who is not an environmental activist, views the contradiction in zoning as frustrating and/or infuriating, which can lead to feelings of helplessness and depression, as Dr. McKenzie described in her presentation.

Finally I want to address a few issues that seemed a little cloudy as it relates to our family health study.

We don’t work at a gas station. In fact I avoid pumping gas because it gives me a headache. We don’t walk barefoot through gas stations. We don’t live next to the freeway. We don’t live in the same house. Ema and Hailey live in their house. I live 8 blocks away. We change our furnace filters every year. We don’t smoke.

Before our blood and urine samples were taken we spent about an hour outdoors in Silt, walking the dogs and playing with Hailey’s little brother Bodi. The air quality is always the worst in Silt in the mornings. At the time of our testing, Ursa’s Xtreme rig was drilling at the Frei Pad across the river from Coal Ridge High School.

It’s not so much that we stubbornly cling to the conclusion that the toxins in our bodies were the result of exposure to oil & gas drilling emissions. We would consider another source if someone were to come up with one. As yet, no one has. “It could be anything” doesn’t cut it.

Remember, the control group in Carbondale did not test positive for BTEXs. The Erie residents and the Silt family did test positive. What do Erie and Silt have in common that Carbondale does not? Oil & gas drilling.

It’s no wonder Ludlam felt compelled to change the subject and shoot the messenger. The truth is so uncomfortable.

Researcher: Health impact studies under way

Check this out:  Air Pollution Spikes In Homes Near Fracking Wells

The health forum will be televised on local cable access channels and the internet. For more information:  Health forum will air on local cable access and internet.

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6 Comments on “More human testing needed”

  1. Anita Sherman Says:

    The fossil fuel industry is a toxic trespasser from extraction to consumption, that violates the laws of property protection, humanity, and life on this planet.

  2. maryinline Says:

    You nailed it, this is another “inconvenient truth”. Thanks for sharing Peggy! Were our Garfield Commissioners present?

  3. Peggy Tibbetts Says:

    Jankovsky was the only GarCo commissioner present. He stood aloof in the back of the room with the industry folks. Michael Sullivan, GarCo P&Z commissioner and candidate for commissioner sat right up front with the people. He’s a good listener. We need more good listeners.

  4. Jennifer Edwards Says:

    I do think fear- being afraid- and all of the processing steps that come along with the fear is one of the barriers to people really understanding how bad this is for them. And that it is bad today- now, and worse… yesterday and last year. That is a big “The sky is falling” time-to-get-the-flock-out-of-Dodge message. We look for mitigating facts and points-of-view to make the information processing less shocking and more palatable. When the “alternative facts” are spoon-fed to us daily with soothing music, pretty pictures, real-people testimonials, etc., we will swallow them up and hope. I understand why people do not vote against fracking, or even vote for a moratorium. It requires buying in to the plot of a sci-fi apocalypse movie and accepting it as your new, inevitable future. I do think we need to be more cautionary in our word and message choices. The very loud alarm bells are scaring people into being more receptive to using the industry ear plugs laying around everywhere.

  5. Benita Phillips Says:

    After the forum, I came back to Palisade and started thinking about the impending Fram drilling in Whitewater. As we drive through the west end of Parachute I see several new drilling sites only feet from the Colorado River. I have a friend who lives in Whitewater. He has a pristine stream running through his property. That stream is immediately downhill and 500 ft from a marked drilling site. He has a contract with the City of Grand Junction that allows the city to access the water from this stream during winter months. Now Grand Junction is selling that water to Fram.

  6. Tod Tibbetts Says:

    Benita, I would have your friend get the stream tested for VOC’s now before drilling starts. If the City of Grand Junction uses it as a drinking water source, they might even be willing to support the testing. In Silt, our experience has been that without base line testing, when we have had problems with stream contamination, the industry says it “was always like that” and continues to dump their waste into the stream.

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