Report shows oil and gas emissions impact public health nationwide

FEATURE16-A brown cloud surrounds the city, Friday, as cooler weather moves into the area an inversion keeps much of the smog from moving out. RJ Sangosti/ The Denver Post (Photo By RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

Denver’s brown cloud [Photo By RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post]

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750,000 asthma attacks nationwide attributable to oil and gas industry, according to new analysis, mapping tool.

Clean Air Task Force, Earthworks document public health risks from oil and gas; call for national comprehensive standards to control emissions

WASHINGTON, DC, August 31, 2016 – Clean Air Task Force and Earthworks today released a new analysis and interactive map showing 750,000 asthma attacks across the country each year due to ozone smog resulting from oil and gas operations. The CATF report, Gasping for Breath describes how oil and gas production emits air pollution that contributes to ozone smog formation, especially during the warm summer months, creating a serious threat for children who suffer from asthma. With the particularly warm summer this year, many municipalities in the U.S. have already experienced numerous days of unhealthy air due to ozone smog pollution.

“This is a terribly large number of asthma attacks in children due to pollution from the oil and gas industry,” said Conrad Schneider, CATF Advocacy Director. “We call on EPA at once to issue strong guidelines for existing oil and gas equipment in areas with high levels of ozone smog and set the stage for comprehensive nationwide standards to protect the public from air pollution from oil and gas facilities.”

In addition to asthma attacks in children, more than 500,000 days of school missed, nearly 2,000 asthma-related emergency room visits, over 600 respiratory-related hospital admissions, and over 1.5 million restricted activity days are attributable to ozone smog during the warm summer months resulting from oil and gas pollution.

“This is the first report that quantifies the national health impacts from ozone produced by pollution from the oil and gas industry,” said Lesley Fleischman, a technical analyst at the Clean Air Task Force and lead author of the report. “We think it’s important to separate out the health impacts we’re seeing directly from this industry. It is very important to understand the health impact that this pollution is having both in the vicinity of oil and gas facilities but also far downwind of those facilities.”

“Emissions are released into the atmosphere, and they can stay in the atmosphere for a very long time, and they can travel great distances,” Fleischman said. “Larger populations in cities also mean a higher number of asthma cases.”

The Oil and Gas Threat Map, developed by Earthworks and FracTracker Alliance, displays information about the threats faced by people living across the nation from pollution from the oil and gas industry. In addition to data on asthma attacks and other health impacts associated with ozone pollution caused by oil and gas, the threat map displays data about the populations living within a half-mile “threat zone” radius from oil and gas development, where residents have a cause for concern about potential health impacts, and the counties with cancer and respiratory health risk above EPA’s level of concern. In addition to the data that the Oil and Gas Threat Map presents, users can enter their own address to see local data on asthma impacts and if they live in the threat zone or a county with elevated risks from oil and gas.

OilAndGasThreatMap.com maps the locations of the 1.2 million oil and gas facilities operating around the country, as well as the populations, schools, and hospitals within a half-mile radius of those facilities. Those who live further away from oil and gas development sites may also feel the effects of this pollution. Air pollution crosses all borders. While those who live near oil and gas facilities may face the largest impacts, communities across the country are likewise burdened with the negative health and climate impacts associated with oil and gas development. Some of the air pollutants that oil and gas sites release last for a relatively long time in the atmosphere before they react to form ozone smog. This means they can travel for hundreds or thousands of miles before reacting, and the ozone smog that is formed from this pollution will extend over large distances.

To illustrate this point, Gasping for Breath found that while Dallas (in the gas patch) ranks #1 for health impacts, New York and Washington, DC ranked second and third, with tens of thousands of attributable childhood asthma attacks every year, even though both cities are some distance from heavy oil and gas activity.

“This groundbreaking analysis shows that, even if you live nowhere near oil and gas facilities, oil and gas air pollution can threaten your health in Denver, in Colorado, and across the United States, even if you live nowhere near oil and gas facilities,” said Earthworks spokesman Alan Septoff.

“To reduce this threat, the state of Colorado must provide the staff and resources to enforce its precedent-setting rules intended to cut oil and gas air pollution from existing operations, including methane, VOCs and air toxics like benzene and formaldehyde,” Septoff said. “And the Environmental Protection Agency should do the same nationwide.”

The Obama administration recently finalized national standards for new sources of methane and ozone smog-forming volatile organic compounds pollution from the oil and gas industry. “Today’s report is being published as we await EPA’s release of important guidelines that will specify pollution control technologies on the oil and gas industry that states must consider in formulating their plans to achieve national ozone standards,” said Schneider. “The environmental and public health communities have stated that they are ready to work with EPA toward proposing and finalizing strong national standards for existing sources of methane as well.”

Oil and Gas Threat Map: An analysis of the health effects from ozone pollution from the oil and gas industry

Gasping for Breath

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