The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) went all out on Monday to announce the roll out of their new Oil and Gas Health Information and Response Program with a single article in the Daily Sentinel which is slowly making the rounds.
The mission statement from the website:
The Oil and Gas Health Information and Response program was created by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to respond to public concerns about health related to oil and gas activities. It will also gather up-to-date information about oil and gas activities, with a focus on health, and make it accessible to the public.
At the end of the article I will tell you about my discussion with Dr. Vigil (pronounced Vee-hill) and offer my advice for reporting your health complaints.
Residents living in the oil and gas patch now have a new place to call with concerns about possible health impacts.
The new complaint line is part of the Oil and Gas Health Information and Response Program being rolled out by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment in response to a recommendation of the recent state oil and gas task force. The program also is setting up a clearinghouse on oil and gas health information based on the task force’s recommendations.
The department also is working on starting up a mobile air-monitoring program, as called for by the task force, to be operated through its Air Pollution Control Division.
The Oil and Gas Health Information and Response Program has set up a website, where the information clearinghouse is located and information on filing complaints is provided …
… Dr. Daniel Vigil is heading the new health information and response program. He told the COGCC commission this week a toxicologist also has been hired, and a case manager will be brought on as well.Health concerns can be reported at 303-389-1687, or via a form that can be filled out at the website. Vigil said calls will be answered daytime, evenings and weekends by agents who will forward callers’ contact information to the response program. A program representative will then be in touch to discuss their concerns, collect information, and in some cases take steps such as talking to a doctor, asking the caller to complete a survey on symptoms and quality of life, deploying mobile air-monitoring, or working with COGCC or CDPHE inspectors.
“Now, honestly we don’t expect in many cases to be able to identify specific causes of people’s symptoms, but we’ll discuss with them what we know, what we don’t know,” Vigil said. “And we hope in time our program will contribute to knowledge about possible health effects.”
The program also will learn of concerns through other avenues, such as complaints lodged with other agencies such as the COGCC.
Vigil said as the program records and tracks information it has received, it will analyze data for patterns and relationships, also considering hospital data, results of surveys on symptoms and air monitoring results, and other information.
The program also has begun a formal literature review of health research related to oil and gas development, and will post assessments at the clearinghouse link.
“All of this in time can contribute to community-level health-risk assessments depending on available resources,” Vigil said.
Funding for a health-risk assessment was also part of the task force’s recommendations.
Vigil said the clearinghouse now primarily contains links to outside information from sources such as the COGCC, but the program eventually will start adding its own analysis of research and other information as it becomes available.
Dr. Larry Wolk, CDPHE’s executive director and chief medical officer, initially suggested to the task force that it support creation of a health complaint system that could trigger responses including deployment of a mobile monitoring unit. Both he and John Adgate, who is a researcher at the Colorado School of Public Health and worked on a health impact assessment related to proposed drilling in Battlement Mesa, cited value in a complaint registry that could be systematically analyzed and studied.
Leslie Robinson, president of the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance in Garfield County, welcomed the recent actions of the CDPHE. She said it represents a new direction for the agency after it seemed to work against citizens as they pushed for an adequate health impact assessment years ago in the residential community of Battlement Mesa. Garfield County commissioners ultimately ended the School of Public Health assessment at a draft stage, after CDPHE raised methodological and other concerns about it and the industry also questioned it.
“When this came up in the task force, it was like, why did it take six years to get our point across that we need more health studies done, those that have to live next to oil and gas development?” Robinson said.
She’d like to see the state eventually do an overall oil and gas health-impact assessment.
“The citizens want to take giant steps in protecting health but it seems like the government’s always taking itsy-bitsy steps, but at least going forward,” Robinson said.
Ursa Resources is proposing drilling 53 wells from two pads within Battlement Mesa, raising concerns from some residents there just as the COGCC is trying to address the task-force recommendation regarding large facilities near urban areas.
Robinson believes many of the conflicts the state is trying to address would go away if it just required larger setbacks between drilling and homes. The state currently allows drilling as close as 500 feet from homes, and even closer in certain circumstances. Robinson would like to see 2,000-foot setbacks.
“There’s one easy way to resolve all of (the conflicts), is to not do any residential drilling that would impact people,” she said.
Dr. Vigil called me on October 2, and we had a lengthy phone conversation. He told me about the program but he didn’t provide many details because they weren’t ready to go public yet. The purpose of his call was to discuss my recent odor complaint to the COGCC. However the bulk of our conversation centered around my health problems, including our family study last year that showed metabolites for ethylbenzene, toluene, xylene and styrene in urine samples, the collapse of my immune system and subsequent series of bacterial infections, and the analysis of my DNA tests that showed my body doesn’t process BTEXS, therefore as the chemicals accumulated in my liver and kidneys they caused persistent inflammation of my gastrointestinal system which eventually crashed my immune system.
To his credit, Dr. Vigil expressed an interest in my case and was not the least bit dismissive. He asked if I would give the CDPHE access to my medical records and participate in additional interviews with a toxicologist and other doctors in the program. I said yes, and I expect to hear from them any day now …
Based on my experience and my conversation with Dr. Vigil, I offer the following advice —
If you live near any oil & gas facilities, (which is anywhere in western Garfield County) and you are having health problems, I urge you in the strongest possible terms to contact the Oil and Gas Health Information and Response Program by phone: 303-389-1687. The website also has a health concern form.
Oil & gas facilities include well pads, compressor stations, injection wells, pipelines or pipeline transfer stations, tank farms, gas processing plants, etc.
The list of possible health problems includes but is not limited to: cancers, asthma, gastrointestinal (nausea, diarrhea, vomiting), reoccurring upper respiratory infections, eyes/ears/nose/throat irritation, persistent nosebleeds, skin rashes or lesions, immune deficiencies, chronic headaches or body pain, neurological problems, dementia, anxiety, depression, miscarriage, birth defects, stillbirths – to name a few.
All of the above health problems are outlined in studies which can be found at the Compendium of Scientific, Medical and Media Findings Demonstrating Risks and Harms of Fracking. The one thing we know for certain is that human DNA is unique, and therefore exposure to drilling chemicals affects each person differently. There are common symptoms, but no two people react the same way.
The reason it’s so important for you to report your health problems is because now the CDPHE will record and track this information which is how we begin to identify clusters of cancers, birth defects, asthma, and other increases in similar health issues in a particular region.
It isn’t necessary for you to pinpoint a particular oil & gas facility that is causing your health problems but you will be asked about your proximity and exposure to oil & gas operations.
A vital feature of this program is something we have requested for years. Dr. Vigil said the CDPHE will consider hospital data. If you are seeing a doctor for your health problems, please urge your doctor to report your case to Oil and Gas Health Information and Response Program.
Because I am open about my health issues, I often hear from local residents with health problems. A frequent refrain is that doctors will say things like (all true), “we see a lot of asthma in Rifle,” or “we see a lot of patients with dementia in Battlement Mesa,” or “we see a lot of cancers in Parachute,” or “we see a lot of miscarriages, birth defects, and stillbirths in Garfield County.” When I talk to medical professionals they tell me that health data is not being collected or reported.
Well, now it will be – allegedly. Do not dismiss this as another bogus government program. Use it to make your voice heard. Make the CDPHE live up to its objectives. The only way this program will succeed is if we participate. It is up to us to report our health problems and to urge our health care providers to do the same.
I’ve done my part. Will you?