Study aims to assess risk from drilling |

Study aims to assess risk from drilling

The Garfield County Commissioners Monday awarded $35,000 to the Saccomano Research Institute of Grand Junction to begin a two-year study of health risks, if any, associated with the oil and gas industry in the county.Saccomano, a part of St. Marys Hospital, is best known for research into lung cancer associated with uranium workers. It focuses on public exposure to environmental and occupational threats to human health.A $371,200 fine on EnCana Oil & Gas USA 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.Earlier this month, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, which is administering the fine monies, agreed to award the contract to Saccomano.Some residents of the county have reported skin irritations and headaches they say is associated with natural-gas wells near their homes. Laura Amos, of Silt, believes contamination of her water well caused her to develop a rare adrenal gland tumor.The public may feel as though their health is at risk and they may wish to obtain an understanding of possible threats to their health, as well as acknowledgment by the oil and gas industry of their concerns, said Teresa Coons, senior scientist at Saccomano, who will conduct the study.Coons said the study will make use of existing data about drillings impacts, and will look at tumor registries and cancer incidence information. It will also examine survey participants family health histories, as well as other factors, such as smoking. Over the course of the study, Coons will hold a series of public meetings in Rifle, Parachute, Silt and Glenwood Springs to identify how the public perceives health risks related to natural-gas operations, as well as any health problems they have.In addition, a health-risk assessment will aim to identify means of industrial exposure, such as drinking water. It will also evaluate air and water quality. The information will be used to create a model of natural gas and other environmental impacts on local human health.Russell Walker, an environmental sciences professor at Mesa State College, will survey local residents on their general health as well as health concerns voiced in the public meetings.Contact Donna Gray: 945-8515, ext.

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