County air quality report nears completion |

County air quality report nears completion

Garfield County soon should get a clearer picture of the degree to which its air is getting murkier.

The county’s environmental health manager, Jim Rada, has received a draft report of a two-year air quality study and may be able to release the final report’s findings in late November.

The study is one of several that is seeking to get a better handle on health risks to residents from energy development and other activities.

Rada declined to discuss the findings in the draft report, saying he wants to review it for completeness and make sure it accomplishes the goals of the study.

It is being conducted in response to public concerns about emissions related to natural gas development, but also is looking more broadly at air quality issues.

The county has spent about $325,000 so far on the study, and the state Department of Public Health and Environment has provided equipment, data analysis and other help. Sampling stations for particulates were placed in communities from Glenwood Springs to Parachute, and on Silt Mesa north of Silt, and Dry Hollow and Divide Creek south of Silt.

The research also has involved testing for volatile organic compounds ” unhealthy pollutants produced by gas development, automobile engines and other causes ” in 14 sites across that region. In addition, residents have been provided with vacuum canisters to test the air whenever odors have been present.

“That gave us kind of a snapshot picture of the VOC content in the air at that time,” Rada said.

Preliminary sampling results in early 2006 showed PM-10 levels to be generally low in the county, and highest in urbanized areas. PM-10 is a health hazard consisting of fine particulate matter under 10 millionths of a meter (10 microns) in size.

Overall VOC levels were very low, but samples where odors were present were much higher than in the rest of the region being tested.

In conjunction with the air sampling, the state health department’s Disease Control and Environmental Epidemiology Division is working on a baseline assessment of risks related to local air pollutants.

In addition, another county study is being conducted by St. Mary’s Saccomanno Research Institute and Mesa State College, to analyze oil and gas industry and other area health risks. Its goal is to have a neutral, third party analyze those risks to help open a dialogue on health concerns.

The risks the energy industry may create in the air and in groundwater are among that study’s focuses. Its results should become available shortly after the air quality report becomes final, Rada said.

Health-risk researchers have been conducting a telephone survey of residents this summer but receiving only about a 1 percent response rate. While the researchers still consider that statistically significant, some 1,700 households also are being sent written surveys, in English and Spanish.

A technical group consisting of organizations such as the state health department, the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Forest Service and Colorado Mountain College has been looking at all kinds of local air quality issues, including the types of emissions and their sources, Rada said. Ozone research projects are occurring in conjunction with the Forest Service and state health department.

Rada hopes to continue air sampling next year. The county also has received a $107,000 EPA grant that will focus on air monitoring related to gas drilling, well fracturing and other operations. It will be looking into particulate matter 2.5 microns or smaller, associated with diesel emissions.

Rada said the county hears concerns from citizens related to drilling and fracturing emissions.

“We feel that it’s important to look at what are the concentrations of these emissions, how episodic they are or continuous, those types of things, and then relate that to health risk if we can, so we can continue to paint a picture of health risk with intensive activity on well sites,” he said.

The EPA also has given the county another grant to help it do outreach and community mobilization around environmental health issues, Rada said.

He’s hoping all the air quality research can lead to efforts to manage the problem and find solutions to it.

Work also is proceeding on the second phase of a hydrogeological study in the Mamm Creek gas field south of Silt and Rifle. That study is focusing on the possible vulnerability of ground and surface water to gas well development and other activities. It was commissioned after gas from a well reached surface water in 2004.

Contact Dennis Webb: 384-9119

Post Independent, Glenwood Springs Colorado CO

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