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Fracking Fumes: Natural Gas Development Worsens Air Quality

Miriam Rotkin-Ellman

Posted April 11, 2012 in Health and the Environment

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Smoggy skies, air quality alerts, burning eyes, headaches, respiratory problems, elevated cancer risk…  Sounds just like Los Angeles or another urban center, right? Not this time.  These air quality problems are being reported in rural America.  What’s going on? An explosion in natural gas drilling is bringing industrial air pollution into people’s backyards. Without strong safeguards from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), communities across the country will pay the price with their health.

wellpadhouseNM.PNGNatural gas production releases an alphabet soup of pollutants into the air which are bad news for everyone – the family next door, the neighboring towns, and ultimately, communities all over the world feeling the impacts of climate change.  This is a new and growing industry, but here’s what we know so far:

Local: Air quality testing in the areas around natural gas wells and processing equipment – in Colorado, Texas, and New Mexico - have shown levels of pollutants, such as benzene, xylene,  1,3-butadiene, and other hydrocarbons, that can cause respiratory and neurological impacts and increase the risk of cancer. A recently published study looking at air quality data collected in rural Colorado found that these health risks increased the closer you got to the gas wells. Diesel emissions from heavy machinery and trucks also pollute the air at a local level.

Regional:  Last year was a winter for the record books in rural Wyoming – not because of snow - but because children were forced to stay indoors to avoid LA-like air quality.  The bad air was due to the accumulation of hydrocarbon pollution, known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs), from the region’s natural gas facilities that interact in the air to form ground-level ozone, commonly referred to as smog.  Ozone is a powerful respiratory irritant and is especially dangerous for people with asthma, particularly children. 

Global:  As if the list wasn’t bad enough already, one of the hydrocarbons emitted from natural gas production, methane, is a powerful global warming pollutant that is fueling climate change. Climate change threatens the health of communities around the world with extreme heat, floods, dangerous air quality and the spread of infectious diseases.

Local, state and national health agencies have expressed concerns about health impacts of air pollution from natural gas facilities including: the Centers’ for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC ) Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), Association of Occupational and Environmental Clinics (AOEC)- Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit (PEHSU) and American Academy of Pediatrics, Colorado Health Department,  the Town of Dish, Texas and the City of Fort Worth, Texas.

The evidence is piling up about the dangers of this industry and a major clean-up is way overdue.  Pollution control technologies are available and many actually save the companies money. The children of Wyoming, Colorado, Texas, New Mexico, and communities across the country need EPA to get it right and set strong standards to protect their health.

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Comments

Tom GillilanApr 11 2012 03:24 PM

Very stringent air quality regulations for fracking are absolutely necessary for all humans who value their health.

"burning eyes, headaches, respiratory problems, elevated cancer risk" gives a partial description of what happens when my neighbors barbeque with charcoal and wood.

Every day here in Los Angeles hundreds of thousands of people cook outdoor with charcoal and wood and is a source of toxic hot spot pollution that the California Air Board refuses to address. (The California Air Board is run by politically appointed attorneys who are not qualified to deal in matters that affect public health. Eight out of ten of the most polluted cities in the country are now in California.)

ALL OF THE FOLLOWING CHEMICALS ARE IN CHARCOAL AND WOOD SMOKE:

CARBON MONOXIDE, METHANE, VOLATILE ORGANIC COMPOUNDS, FORMALDEHYDE, ACROLEIN, PROPIONALDEHYDE, BUTRYALDEHYDE, ACETALDEHYDE, FURFURAL, SUBSTITUTED FURANS, BENZENE, ALKYL BENZENES, TOLUENE,ACETIC ACID, FORMIC ACID, NITROGEN OXIDES,SULFER DIOXIDE, METHYL CHLORIDE, NAPTHALENE, SUBSTITUTED NAPTHALENES, OXYGENATED MONOAROMATICS, GUAIACOL, PHENOL, SYRINGOL, CATECHOL, PARTICULATE ORGANIC CARBON,OXYGENATED POLYCYCLIC AROMATIC HYDROCARBONS (PAH), FLORENE, PHENANTHRENE, ANTHRACENE, METHYL ANTHRACENES, FLUORANTHENE, PYRENE, BENZO(A)ANTHRACENE, CHRYSENE, BENZOFLUORANTHENES, BENZO(E)PYRENE, BENZO(A)PYRENE, PERYLENE, IDENO(1,2,3-cd)PYRENE, BENZ(ghi)PERYLENE, CORONENE.

WE BREATHE THESE AS TOXIC VAPORS WHEN YOU COOK WITH CHARCOAL AND WOOD OR USE YOUR FIREPLACE

AT LEAST TEN OF THESE CHEMICALS CAUSE CANCER

THESE CHEMICALS ALSO CAUSE ALLERGIC ASTHMA AND ADVERSE RESPIRATORY OUTCOMES
ESPECIALLY IN CHILDREN AND THE ELDERLY

Liberty does not apply to injuring others or putting others at risk.


Tom gillilanApr 11 2012 03:48 PM

Air quality is "political".

If you want clean healthy breathing air you must fight for it. If not, the "dirty air" people win by default.

MarleneApr 13 2012 10:16 AM

They are trying to get closer and closer to where I live with their drilling.. My town if full of asbestosis from the mine and now they are fixing the tracks so they can haul COAL to the west coast and the forest areas the tracks are in also contains the asbestosis fiber...that is across the RIVER from me--so now ad coal dust to our toxic soup...and I am thinkin I will be dead from the fiber right about the time the drillers come...hoping the higher power is watching.

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