Region’s improved air quality cuts cancer risk
Garfield County has seen a steadily decreasing risk for cancer and other ailments associated with air pollutants, based on a state health department analysis of the county’s air monitoring data between 2008 and 2012.
The decline in airborne concentrations of volatile organic compounds and their related health risks during that period is also consistent with observations through 2014, according to Morgan Hill, environmental health specialist for Garfield County.
The health risk assessment conducted by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment was presented to county commissioners Monday.
It was requested by the Garfield County Health Department and completed based on data collected during the five-year period at three of the county’s five air monitoring sites that were in place during that time.
Previous air quality health risk assessments were done at the county’s request in 2008 and 2010, Hill said.
“The recommendations made in these studies helped inform the direction of the air quality monitoring program in Garfield County,” she said.
Mike van Dyke, who heads the CDPHE’s Environmental Epidemiology, Occupational Health and Toxicology division, said the study looked at the risk of cancer based on three primary contributors, crotonaldehyde, formaldehyde and benzene.
During the monitoring period, concentrations of those and other chemicals decreased significantly, he said, resulting in a significant decline in the cancer risk.
Concentrations of chemicals typically associated with certain non-cancer health risks, such as impacts on the nervous or reproductive systems, also decreased during that time, van Dyke said.
He did note that there is uncertainty associated with risk estimates, due to potential “underestimating risks.”
Even though the county monitors some 90 chemicals, no toxicity value is set for some of those chemicals and a lack of air monitoring data for certain other chemicals that could pose risks, van Dyke said.
“There are also increased risks for people who live very close to these emission sources,” he said.
It is also not possible to attribute specific emissions to specific sources, such as oil and gas activity, automobile emissions in high-traffic areas and other industrial pollutants, he emphasized.
“The emissions measured include all sources, including oil and gas,” he said.
“My recommendation is to keep doing what you’re doing, and keep looking at this long-range, and look at changes in oil and gas operations,” van Dyke said.
The period during which the study was based coincided with a significant downturn in new drilling in Garfield County. That decline has continued over the past three years.
However, the county is still home to more than 10,000 active and producing natural gas wells.
The three air monitoring sites assessed in the report were the Bell Ranch south of Silt, a monitoring station within Parachute town limits and one in downtown Rifle.
Other county monitoring sites, one at Rulison that was added in 2010 and a mobile monitoring station that was in Battlement Mesa from 2012 to 2014, did not have data for all five years from 2008 to 2012. The mobile station has been located in Glenwood Springs this year.
On a related note, Hill informed county commissioners on Monday that a study being conducted by Colorado State University looking at air quality near well sites in Garfield County during and immediately after the drilling process is now on track to be completed by next March, rather than by year’s end.
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