Study Shows Air Emissions Near Fracking Sites Increase Cancer and Neurological Health Risks
A new study from the Colorado School of Public Health shows that air pollution generated by hydraulic fracturing can produce acute and chronic illnesses for those living near the drilling sites.
This research adds another wrinkle to the public health debate surrounding hydraulic fracturing. Largely this discourse has centered around toxification of the water supply. However, as Dr. Lisa McKenzie, the lead author of the study, explains, it is time to broaden the discussion: "Our data show it is important to include air pollution in the national dialogue on natural gas development that has focused largely on water exposures to hydraulic fracturing."
The study, to be published in the journal Science of the Total Environment, was based off three years of monitoring. The data presented some incredible findings, including identifying several toxic petroleum hydrocarbons in the air near wells. These chemicals include benzene, ethylbenzene, toluene and xylene. Benzene is recognized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a known carcinogen.
Exposure to these chemicals has detrimental neurological and respiratory effects, the study reports. Some of the effects include headaches, eye irritation, sore throat, and difficulty breathing.
The study also calculated higher cancer risks for residents living near well sites compared to those living further away, as result of the emission of benzene.
The study monitored individuals that lived within a half-mile of a drilling site. Dr. McKenzie noted there could be more toxic chemicals in the air than those reported in her study. "There wasn't data available on all the chemicals emitted during the well development process. If there had been, then it is entirely possible the risks would have been underestimated."
The United States sits on the world's largest known deposit of natural gas -- the Marcellus Shale. As a result, development of natural gas has skyrocketed with companies flocking to the area. Yet, there are many red flags that have emerged around environmental and public health safety. The oil and gas industry says they're overblown, while opponents say hydraulic fracturing represents one of the biggest energy risks in the country.
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