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November 20, 2012
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Study calls for scrutiny of air emissions at gas well sites

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado - A Paonia-based scientific organization, the Endocrine Disruption Exchange, has detected high concentrations of potentially toxic emissions from gas wells that show up early in the drilling process, rather than during hydraulic fracturing of the well.The importance of the study's findings, according to an abstract included with the document, is that nonmethane hydrocarbons (NMHCs), which the study states can cause serious negative health effects at levels well below government standards, are inadequately understood and must be examined for their possible health impacts.The study also found compounds that are "ozone precursors," meaning they contribute to the formation of ozone at ground level, which is another source of concern for human health.An energy industry spokesman, however, doubted the accuracy of the findings in the study.David Ludlam, executive director of the West Slope Colorado Oil & Gas Association, noted that the study "readily acknowledges" that the air samples gathered near the wells yielded a high degree of variability in the study's findings.In addition, he pointed to a statement in the study itself, that the chemicals found in the air samples cannot be "causally connected" to gas drilling operations."Yet despite this variability and lack of causality, they still attempt to extrapolate trends and attribute detected chemicals to the gas well," Ludlam commented. "This seems less of a study supporting their theory of health impacts due to natural gas activity, than it is that they disagree with long-standing NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) and OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) health and safety standards."The Endocrine Disruption Exchange (TEDX), founded by environmental health analyst Dr. Theo Colborn, issued the study, "An Exploratory Study of Air Quality near Natural Gas Operations," on Nov. 9.Colborn told the Post Independent on Monday that the variability in the findings was because "it's a mixture down there (in the well), under all kinds of conditions."This is just stuff that's coming up out of the ground," Colborn said. "I thought the variability made the study's findings more credible."Regarding the lack of "causality," Colborn said that could only be cured by conducting a much more comprehensive and expensive study on the well pad itself, capturing the gases as they escape from the well without any dilution from the air."This is the kind of study that the EPA would love to do, that they should be doing," she said. But, she added, the agency has been locked out of scrutiny of the oil and gas industry by the 2005 Clean Water Act exemptions enacted by the Bush administration.Colborn conceded that the study is critical of NIOSH and OSHA standards for the chemicals detected near gas wells, as well as cautionary about the need to further study industry practices."We need new laws," she said emphatically. "We definitely need new laws."Suspected compounds affect human endocrine systemThe data in the study comes from weekly air quality sampling conducted for more than a year, from July 2010 until October 2011, from the TEDX sampling equipment set up less than a quarter of a mile from a new natural gas well pad.The NMHCs, according to study, have "multiple health effects, including 30 (compounds) that affect the endocrine system, which is susceptible to chemical impacts at very low concentrations, far less than government safety standards."The human endocrine system, according to the American Medical Association, is made up of hormone-secreting glands that regulate the body's rate of growth, metabolism, and sexual development and function.The TEDX abstract stated that some compounds detected at the well site were found at concentrations greater than levels known to have caused developmental problems and low IQ scores in children in urban tests.The study also called for more study of ozone precursors, chemicals that combine to create ozone. While beneficial at high altitudes due to its ability to screen harmful solar radiation, at ground level ozone is considered a health hazard to humans.According to the Environmental Protection Agency, "breathing ozone can trigger a variety of health problems including chest pain, coughing, throat irritation and congestion. It can worsen bronchitis, emphysema and asthma. Ground level ozone also can reduce lung function and inflame the linings of the lungs. Repeated exposure may permanently scar lung tissue."For Colborn, the study is a warning."I think what our paper shows is ... we'd better start thinking about (well) density," she remarked.With drilling going on in and around semi-rural, relatively dense areas of Garfield County, she said, "Maybe there should be a limit to the numbers they allow" to avoid saturating the air with pollutants."jcolson@postindependent.com


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The Post Independent Updated Nov 20, 2012 01:04AM Published Nov 20, 2012 01:02AM Copyright 2012 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.