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Health risk assessment to study effects of oil and gas development

BATTLEMENT MESA – A handful of Battlement Mesa and area residents had plenty to say at the unveiling of a health risk assessment study Tuesday. The two-year study will determine if there are health risks associated with the oil and gas industry.Saccomano Research Institute in Grand Junction will conduct the study, aided by Mesa State College environmental science professor Russell Walker.A $371,000 fine levied against EnCana last year will fund the $64,999 study. The record fine was imposed after natural gas from an EnCana well surfaced last year in West Divide Creek south of Silt. The bulk of the money is funding a hydrogeological study in the area of the seep.Tuesday, Dale Carson, of Parachute, played an ear-splitting tape of sounds of a producing well near her house. The constant sound and accompanying vibration has affected her health and that of her pet cat, she said.”In my house I could not hear myself speak,” she said. “If I touch any furniture or lay my head on the pillow, the vibration comes. My cat could not get away from it. It just sat on the floor and howled.”Teresa Coons, senior scientist with the Saccomano Research Institute, outlined the two-year study to about 20 people Tuesday night at the Battlement Mesa Activity Center. She said the aim of the study is to determine if the oil and gas activity in western Garfield County is linked to serious health problems. Coons, who has studied the environmental and human health effects of the uranium industry, said the study will try to move from perception of locals to the reality of the situation.The perception, she said “is that human health is at risk or has been damaged because of the proximity of the industry’s operations. It’s human nature to relate industry that is present to health concerns. What we want to get out of (the study) is the reality of the situation, what health concerns are directly linked to the industry.”Besides looking at physical health, she will also consider “all factors affecting quality of life … Stress can cause physical problems,” she said.She also appealed to the audience to help with the study. “We need help to identify sources of potential contamination that could cause health problems,” she said.Among the potential sources already identified by the research team are the uranium mill tailings site west of Rifle, and the nuclear blast site near Rulison, Coons said.Coons also said “not everyone is equally susceptible to toxic material exposure.”A person’s state of health, their age and proximity to a toxic substance or the amount of exposure they’ve had determines their susceptibility. Health problems can also take a long time to show up after people have been exposed, she added.”Very often the health effect of something toxic doesn’t show up for 10 to 20 years. So if people haven’t been exposed for that long we may not see the true effect of that exposure,” she said. Coons said her team will interview people living in the county who feel they have developed health problems from living near oil and gas activity. They’ll also convene focus groups and go door to door to households in the county and survey them about their general health. The team will review the results of two other current countywide studies looking at air and water quality and state data on disease rates as well.Carson also questioned Coons about the results of the study, whether or not they would have any weight in influencing government to more closely regulate the oil and gas industry.”We are not here as policy makers. What you do with the data … that’s for the community to make a decision about,” Coons said.”We’re not a hired gun to come in and make your decisions for you.” Walker added.


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