Forum focuses on health impacts of gas industry |

Forum focuses on health impacts of gas industry

PARACHUTE — A pair of public health experts who have been doing research into the potential health impacts associated with the oil and gas industry have been invited to speak to the issue at a special public forum this week.

The forum, “Oil and Gas Impacts on Human Health,” is being presented by the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance (GVCA) and Battlement Concerned Citizens at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Parachute Library.

“There have been cumulative scientific studies and increased concerns that chemicals used in drilling and fracking of natural gas wells have adverse effects on people living near well sites,” the two organizations said in a news release.

Lisa McKenzie, research associate at the University of Colorado Denver School of Public Health, will discuss her work on the Battlement Mesa Health Impact Assessment (HIA) and other work involving public health concerns related to the industry.

The controversial HIA, which was initially funded by Garfield County, determined that residents who were exposed to volatile emissions from natural gas drilling were at greater risk for a variety of health conditions.

After the draft HIA report was presented in 2011, Garfield County commissioners defunded the study before a final report could be completed, saying it had become a “political football.”

McKenzie continued to work on the study, and also was the lead researcher for another study released earlier this year that found a correlation between proximity to oil and gas wells and an increase in birth defects.

The release of that study preceded a Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment investigation into a sudden increase in prenatal defects reported in Garfield County late last year. State health officials looked at 22 separate cases of prenatal anomalies, including possible links to oil and gas activity, but found no common denominators.

Also speaking Wednesday will be Dr. John Hughes of Aspen Integrative Medicine, who is part of an emerging study of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) associated with natural gas emissions, and their potential impact on human health.

Hughes is in the process of facilitating a study for Dr. Jay Hanas of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of Oklahoma, testing for VOC compounds among people living near drilling operations in Garfield County.

Initial blood test results involving one family living in Silt have shown increased levels of VOC contamination, according to Hughes.

Industry officials have long disputed claims of health impacts for people living near gas wells. Grand Valley Citizens Alliance Chairwoman Leslie Robinson said she expects industry representatives to be on hand at the Wednesday forum to share their view on the topic.

“One of the reasons we’re doing this forum is that we don’t think the state and federal officials are doing enough to follow up on some of these studies that are out there,” Robinson said. “The HIA got dragged down in politics, when the state really should have stepped in to finish it.

“We would like to see that study finished, because we feel there are impacts as these people who are working in the field have revealed,” she said.

Robinson said the GVCA and its affiliate Battlement Concerned Citizens have sponsored similar forums in the past, including one last fall focusing on air quality concerns. That was before the state of Colorado adopted its new air quality standards for oil and gas operators.

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