Study shows unsafe air quality at oil and gas facilities

Air pollution haze at sunset over the gas field in Northeastern Colorado

Air pollution haze at sunset over the gas field in Weld County, Colorado

Colorado is one of five states included in a newly released study of toxic emissions near oil and gas production. Monitoring occurred in Boulder and Weld counties. For this study researchers applied what’s known as “community-based monitoring” method, which is essentially the bucket brigade. Local community residents were trained to collect air samples in buckets, wore formaldehyde detector badges, and recorded all their sensory and physical reactions to the fumes as they took grab samples. Samples were collected at all types of facilities including well pads, compressor stations, gas processing plants, plus tank farms and frackwater collection and/or holding sites.

The study concluded.

Community-based monitoring near unconventional oil and gas operations demonstrates elevations in concentrations of hazardous air pollutants under a range of circumstances. Of special concern are high concentrations of benzene, hydrogen sulfide, and formaldehyde, as well as chemical mixtures linked to operations with observed impacts to resident quality of life.

The study:  Air concentrations of volatile compounds near oil and gas production: a community-based exploratory study

5-State Study Finds Unsafe Levels of Airborne Chemicals Near Oil and Gas Sites
Peer-reviewed results show ‘potentially dangerous compounds and chemical mixtures’ that can make people feel ill and raise cancer risk

… What’s in the air near oil and gas production sites?

The answer—in many of the areas monitored for the peer-reviewed study, published today in the journal Environmental Health—is “potentially dangerous compounds and chemical mixtures” that can make people feel ill and raise their risk of cancer.

“The implications for health effects are just enormous,” said David O. Carpenter, the paper’s senior author and director of the University at Albany’s Institute for Health and the Environment.

In 40 percent of the air samples, laboratory tests found benzene, formaldehyde or other toxic substances associated with oil and gas production above levels the federal government considers safe for brief or longer-term exposure, according to the study. Far above, in some cases …

… The study monitored air at locations in Arkansas, Colorado, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wyoming.

It comes amid a growing body of research suggesting that the country’s ballooning oil and gas production—cheek-by-jowl with homes and schools—could be endangering the health of people nearby. The Center for Public Integrity and InsideClimate News have been investigating this topic, mostly in the Eagle Ford Shale formation of South Texas, for the past 18 months …

… “Research is just now beginning, really, to be done,” said Michael McCawley, interim chair of West Virginia University’s Department of Occupational and Environmental Health Sciences and author of the study for that state.

“Part of the problem seems to be a concerted effort, up until recently, to avoid asking the question,” said environmental physician Bernard D. Goldstein, a faculty emeritus at the University of Pittsburgh who served as an U.S. Environmental Protection Agency official during the Reagan administration.

The beginning of a shift is under way.

The National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences says it is supporting nine studies in progress, from an analysis of asthma near shale gas sites to an examination of local residents’ health before, during and after a multi-well pad is developed. The agency is also conducting its own studies on chemical exposures that could be an issue for gas-extraction workers and people living near such sites …

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