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Feds caution Wyoming residents about water contaminants

John Colson
Post Independent Staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

PAVILLION, Wyo. – A recent report on contaminants found in groundwater here does not definitively name the source of the contaminants, but cautions that exposure to the contaminants may pose a health hazard to area residents.

Investigations into concerns about water pollution in the Pavillion area have been closely watched by Garfield County residents, because the two regions share one significant characteristic – they are home to very active natural gas exploration industries.

The Environmental Protection Agency and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, at a public meeting on Aug. 31, released a 46-page report about an assessment of chemicals found in water wells around the area.



Investigation into the matter will continue, according to the EPA and the ATSDR, which is a division of the Center for Disease Control.

The study began in 2009 after local residents began complaining about the smell, texture and taste of their well water, and expressed concern about the possible presence of carcinogenic chemicals.



Specifically, the residents were worried that nearby gas drilling activities may be contaminating the groundwater.

Industry officials have consistently maintained that their operations pose no threat to human health, and that there is no evidence that gas drilling has contaminated groundwater in areas where the industry has operations.

The two-tiered study was conducted in Fremont County and the Pavillion area, which in 2003 was estimated to be home to about 166 residents and the site of considerable drilling activity, some of it in what the study described as “close proximity of [residents’] wells.”

According to the study, ” There are an estimated 211 active gas wells, 30 plugged and abandoned wells, 20 wells identified as ‘shut in’ and 37 former pits associated with the natural gas exploration.”

The study noted an earlier finding by the U.S. Geological Survey that “contaminants associated with oil and gas production have the potential to affect the water resources of this area [around Pavillion].

“The potential contaminants associated with oil and gas production include petroleum hydrocarbons, brines and trace metals, and in some cases naturally occurring radioactive material. Sources of these contaminants include overflowing, failing or unlined pits, leaking tanks, leaking well heads and interaction between the groundwater and petroleum or brine zones inside well bores.”

According to conclusions in the EPA/ATSDR study, however, sources could be anything from the gas and oil drilling activities in the area, including abandoned liquid storage pits that still retain chemical residues from the days when they were in active use; drainage from irrigation systems; and septic systems used by area ranch families.

Based on testing in January of this year, the report states, “Of note, adamantanes (naturally occurring compounds found in crude and gas condensate) and tri (2-butoxyethyl) phosphate were detected,” as well as methane, benzene and other compounds often associated with gas drilling operations.

In terms of possible methods of exposure, the study noted the potential for inhalation during showers and absorption through the skin, as well as by drinking the water.

The study also referred to the “explosive hazard” presented by methane, ethane, propane, butane, pentanes and hexanes – all of which were detected. Though the study did not find that the compounds were detected at explosive levels, it noted that “there is a possibility that these compounds could accumulate in a confined space and pose an explosive hazard. To ensure safety, residents should ventilate their bathroom during showering.”

Assessing the possible health hazard of the water in the study area, the report concluded, “All but one well had at least one contaminant of concern and most wells had two or three contaminants of concern which could result in a health effect from ingesting the well water.”

But, the text continued, “Based on available data, inhalation of VOCs from showering does not appear to pose a health hazard.”

jcolson@postindependent.com


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