Toxic chemicals are killing us more slowly now

FLIR still images 3-18-15The CDPHE presented their health risk assessment to county commissioners on Monday. From the headlines one might come away with the misconception that air quality in the gaspatch has improved.

Region’s improved air quality cuts cancer risk

Garfield County Press Release:
Health assessment finds decreased potential cancer risk in air

Also found, a shift in hydrocarbon types

GARFIELD COUNTY, CO – Garfield County commissioners today received the results of a human health risk assessment of air quality, showing a decreasing potential for cancer risk and non-cancer risk over the years 2008-12.

The assessment was requested by the Garfield County Health Department and completed by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, based on data collected over five years (2008-12) at Garfield County’s air monitoring sites.

The results of the report also concludes there appeared to be a shift in the types of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) driving human health risk. The top three cancer risk contributors are crotonaldehyde, formaldehyde, and benzene over the 2009 to 2012 monitoring period, and some non-cancer hazard contributors are formaldehyde and acetaldehyde.

The report notes it is not possible to attribute emissions to specific sources, and that emissions measured include all sources of VOCs in the air sampled, including those from oil and gas operations.

Raj Goyal, author of the health assessment and toxicologist at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, said, “A health risk assessment is a process to scientifically evaluate the increased likelihood that adverse health effects will occur if people are exposed to toxics or chemicals. It considers the exposure pathways, the likelihood of adverse health effects, the expected types of health effects, and the toxicity of individual chemicals. The air quality data shows a declining health risk during 2008-12” …

Well, this is certainly one big revelation for me. You see, I’ve been bitching about the air quality in Silt and western Garfield County for 5 years. From Garfield County to the CDPHE to the EPA (District 8 office) everyone has insisted there’s nothing wrong with our air quality. Now all of a sudden they say it’s improving, which can only mean one thing. Our air quality was really, really bad, after all.

And oh yeah there’s some other chemicals in that toxic soup that we haven’t even studied. So there’s that.

All of this talk of improved air quality and decreased cancer risk begs the question: How bad was it?

For details about how bad it was in 2010, read the Battlement Mesa HIA, Draft 2, Appendix D, Screening Level Human Health Risk Assessment, page 66.

For a brief description, the Daily Sentinel article quotes from the latest CDPHE report’s Executive Summary.

Breathe easier, now: Air quality improves in Garfield gas patch

… According to the new assessment report, findings from studies from 2008-12 indicated that some of the primary chemicals associated with oil and gas emissions, such as benzene and toluene, “were higher in rural Garfield County than in other urban areas (e.g., Grand Junction) outside the County.

Gosh. I don’t remember anyone admitting that back then. That is some secret they’ve been keeping.

However, no compounds at any of the Garfield County monitoring sites have shown consistent increases since monitoring began in 2008. As per (Garfield County Public Health) reports, the 2011 and 2012 air quality monitoring studies indicated consistently decreasing concentrations of many compounds at some monitoring sites since 2008.” In tandem with that decrease, the new assessment found a 4.5-fold drop in the cumulative cancer risk estimates at the Parachute monitoring site, a two-fold decrease at the site south of Silt and a 1.4-fold drop at the Rifle site.

Mike Van Dyke, chief of the health department’s Environmental Epidemiology, Occupational Health, and Toxicology Section, told Garfield commissioners Monday that the Rifle decrease may have been smaller because it’s an urban area that doesn’t see as much change over time …

… “So really, the big picture here is, cancer risk is decreasing at all these sites from 2008 to 2012 — big decreases,” Van Dyke said.

Let’s take a look at those “big decreases” — emphasis added:

… The Rifle site and Silt-area sites saw the same-size drops in non-cancer health risks as in cancer risks, while the Parachute site experienced a threefold decrease in non-cancer risks. The Environmental Protection Agency uses an index in considering noncancer health risk, with an acceptable high of 1. From 2008-12, the Parachute site’s index fell from 1.8 to 0.6, the Silt site, 1.1 to 0.5, and the Rifle site, 1 to 0.7.

The EPA’s acceptable cancer risk range is one to 100 in a million. The Parachute site was estimated to have a 443-in-a-million cancer risk in 2008, and a 98-in-a-million risk in 2012. The Rifle site’s risk fell to from 178 to 125 in a million, and the Silt site, from 351 to 166 in a million.

In other words Rifle and Silt remain over the EPA’s acceptable cancer risk range and Parachute is now on the high end of acceptable.

Are we to assume that Battlement Mesa is included in the Parachute estimate? Or did they conveniently leave out the Battlement Mesa estimate? I couldn’t find any mention of Battlement Mesa numbers specifically in the CDPHE report.

These numbers are dismal and certainly nothing to brag about. What they represent is a devastating fact of life in the gaspatch.

While one source of oil and gas emissions — drilling and hydraulic fracturing activity — has fallen off in the county, another source — producing wells — has continued to increase.

Gordon Pierce, technical services program manager for Colorado’s Air Pollution Control Division, has said additional state oil and gas regulations likely contributed to the overall declining trend in levels of benzene and other pollutants in Garfield County in recent years.

Those regulations were further toughened last year through adoption of the nation’s first rules specifically targeting methane emissions from oil and gas development.

Oh yes, let’s talk about our toothless air quality emissions regs in Colorado. Operators are allowed to self-monitor and self-report. Are the new air quality emissions regulations being enforced?

The Earthworks Citizen Empower Project and the Garfield County FLIR tour answered that question.

The answer is no.

See for yourself. Take the Garfield County FLIR tour.

The CDPHE’s most recent air quality data is from 2012. The FLIR videos were shot in March 2015.

Do we have an ongoing emissions problem from existing wells, tanks, pipelines, compressor stations, processing plants and other facilities? Yes, the FLIR videos prove it.

There is absolutely no doubt that since 2012, hundreds of people have become sick with cancer and other immunodeficiency diseases. More kids have asthma, untold miscarriages and stillbirths occurred, and we’ll never know how many people died because the CDPHE isn’t collecting real data on the health impacts of oil & gas development. They just play with estimates associated with potential risks.

Battlement Mesa resident Bob Arrington wonders what may happen to air quality if local drilling rebounds.

He said there’s a lot of sophisticated equipment available these days to detect and stop leaks and emissions.

But it’s expensive, and he believes the new requirements are still too lenient in what they require of companies.

“There’s still a lot of slack there in the rules,” he said.

He also worries about any willingness to tolerate “collateral damage” when it comes to health risk assessments.

“It’s a nice number game, but if you’re one of the cancer victims, it’s a lot more personal,” he said.

Exactly, it boils down to a numbers game. To say these numbers are acceptable is to say that collateral damage – sickness and death – are acceptable impacts of oil & gas development.

Everything is not okay.

There is no good news in that report for us out here in the gaspatch. It’s just more news of slow death. The CDPHE’s numbers tell us the health risks are still too high. And if production increases, the health risks will increase.

It’s hard for me to buy what the CDPHE is selling because for years they’ve been saying we didn’t have a problem. Now they say we DID have a problem. And look — it’s getting better.

Our air quality has NOT improved. It’s nowhere near good enough.

For more information:

New CDPHE report: Garfield County Air Toxics Inhalation Screening Level Human Health Risk Assessment: Trends in Air Quality from 2008 to 2012

Battlement Mesa HIA/EHMS

Garfield County FLIR tour

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