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Wyoming: ozone pollution from oil and gas operations is linked to more health clinic visits

Amy Mall

Posted May 2, 2013 in Health and the Environment

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I've blogged before about how many oil and gas activities lead to increased ambient ozone. Ozone causes very dangerous health effects. Some of the most rural areas in Wyoming (and in Utah) have experienced dangerously high ozone levels.

Because residents of Sublette County, Wyoming, have expressed concerns about the high ozone and wanted to understand what it meant for their health, the Wyoming Department of Health performed an investigation "to evaluate possible associations between short-term changes in ground-level ozone and adverse acute respiratory effects among persons residing and seeking healthcare within Sublette County."

Here's what they concluded: 

"The results of this study suggest an association of ground-level ozone with clinic visits for adverse respiratory-related effects the day following elevations of ground-level ozone in Sublette County. This analysis evaluated ground-level ozone across the range of concentrations observed, with the majority of days below the regulatory standards. These results are consistent with other studies in the published literature."

At the same time, the BLM is proposing to allow thousands of new oil and gas wells in Wyoming--thousands! When accompanies by all the associated equipment likes tanks, compressors, pipelines, and more, we expect that Wyoming will experience even worse air quality. The state has put some new rules in place, but they are still not doing enough to protect the health of Wyoming communities.

And while the federal EPA put new rules in place last year to reduce the emissions of the pollutants that cause ozone, the rules fail to address all the sources of pollution and won’t be implemented until 2015.  In addition, federal and state rules to protect against other kinds of air pollutants (i.e. carcinogenic and neurotoxic chemicals)  are much too weak. As my colleague, NRDC health expert Miriam Rotkin-Ellman blogged, current rules allow the oil and gas industry to continue to pose serious health risks to American families.

Recently, Congressman Jared Polis and other Members of Congress introduced the BREATHE Act--a bill to close loopholes in the Clean Air Act that allow the oil and gas industry to spew toxic pollutants into the air, even pollutants known to cause cancer. We hope other Members of Congress will co-sponsor this important legislation, a significant step towards protecting the families and communities bearing the burden of pollution cause by this industry. As the Wyoming study shows, real people are currently paying the price of lax regulations. It’s time to improve the regulation and monitoring of ozone forming pollutants and close the oil and gas loopholes in our federal environmental laws.

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