Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

Groundbreaking Study Finds Cancer-Causing Air Pollution Near Fracking Sites

Climate
Groundbreaking Study Finds Cancer-Causing Air Pollution Near Fracking Sites

The air quality near fracking sites and other gas and oil operations may not be safe to breathe, according to a new study Air Concentrations of Volatile Compounds Near Oil and Gas Production: A Community-Based Exploratory Study, published today in the journal Environmental Health.

Nearby residents have found that drilling operations like this one in southern Ohio produce toxic air that impacts their health. Photo credit: Stop Fracking Ohio

"Horizontal drilling, hydraulic fracturing, and other drilling and well stimulation technologies are now used widely in the United States and increasingly in other countries," the report stated. "They enable increases in oil and gas production, but there has been inadequate attention to human health impacts."

And the analysis of the air samples gathered in Arkansas, Colorado, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wyoming near oil and gas facilities, including fracking sites, found that those impacts could be considerable. They found numerous toxic chemicals that can cause a host of health problems including asthma, headaches and birth defects—in some cases in amounts hundreds of times higher than what is considered safe. It found levels of eight volatile chemicals that exceeded federal guidelines for health-based risk, especially benzene, formaldehyde and hydrogen sulfate.

The study cites five reasons why the health impacts of oil and gas extraction and processing operations haven't been more widely studied: more focus on threats to water supplies, limited state air quality monitoring networks, a still-evolving understanding of how certain oil and gas production processes contribute to air quality, variations in emissions and their concentrations, and research that overlooks impacts of importance to residents.

The  new study addresses the latter concern in its groundbreaking use of a community-based process to choose the sampling locations—areas where residents believe they are suffering from the impacts of nearby oil and gas operations. In addition, the study examined locations representing all phases of these operations, not just one step in the process. Twelve community organizations in six states participated in gathering air quality samples, and their results were released in a companion report Warning Signs: Toxic Air Pollution at Oil and Gas Development Sites.

“The citizens in these communities were experiencing health problems that they believe are linked to the oil and gas production near their homes,” said the study's lead author David Carpenter and director of the Institute of Health and the Environment at New York State University at Albany. “Chemical exposure is insidious and cumulative, and so it may take years to really understand the magnitude of impacts on peoples health from oil and gas development.”

Community members were trained in the use of the same devices used by government agencies that do air quality monitoring. They took their samples at times when people were showing symptoms of illness, smelled strange odors, or saw activities at the sites. The samples were sent to an independent lab for analysis.

One example cited was the new K&H facility in Athens County, Ohio, with 11 large tanks venting volatile organic compounds and hydrocarbons 24 hours a day less than a quarter mile from a residential neighborhood. Issues like that have led to the rise of a strong anti-fracking movement in the southeast Ohio county which sits on the Utica shale play.

"I have personally stood in the front yard of one of K&H's neighbors and experienced light-headedness and sore throat in as little as one-half hour of exposure," said Heather Cantino, a member of the Athens County Fracking Action Network. "These are the same symptoms of toxic hydrocarbon exposure that I have felt standing near injection well sites. It breaks my heart to think about the illnesses possibly in store for these neighbors and for their children, whom I watched playing with their puppy in their front yard. The state's allowing these toxic emissions with NO monitoring whatsoever is immoral and should certainly be illegal."

Monitoring in Wyoming, where oil and gas drilling have been going on for decades, revealed the most extreme result: levels of hydrogen sulfide, a potent nerve toxin, were 660 times higher than the federal health standard.

“Our families have serious health conditions, livestock and pets are sick and dying, and property values have plummeted," said Deb Thomas, a resident of rural farming and ranching community of Clark, Wyoming. "That the contamination has reached this level—legally!—is a shameful disgrace. This air monitoring data should be a warning to everyone, including for people living places where its still possible to prevent this contamination. This industry isnt just fracking for oil and gas...its fracturing communities and our lives.”

“Wyoming is the ‘canary in the mine,’" said Athens County resident Sandra Sleight-Brennan. “When you look at the plans that industry has for Ohio—more tanks, more drilling, more pipelines and more barges full of waste being imported, we’d be insane if we didn’t look closely at what has happened in Wyoming. Here in Ohio we have an opportunity, with this new peer-reviewed study, to see the warning signs and learn from them before Ohio becomes the nation’s dumping ground."

Ohio does not monitor emissions from fracking operations.

“This experience shows how important it is for communities to be directly involved in monitoring the air they breathe," said Denny Larson, whose nonprofit organization Global Community Monitor trained the residents who participated in the monitoring. "They know their communities better than anyone, and combination of scientific data and personal experiences can help government agencies that are supposed to be protecting our health, to do their job.”

 YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

Study Finds 8 Fracking Chemicals Toxic to Humans

Poll Shows Californians Oppose Dumping Fracking Chemicals Into Ocean

McKibben to Obama: Fracking May Be Worse Than Burning Coal

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

An illustration depicts the extinct woolly rhino. Heinrich Harder / Wikimedia Commons

The last Ice Age eliminated some giant mammals, like the woolly rhino. Conventional thinking initially attributed their extinction to hunting. While overhunting may have contributed, a new study pinpointed a different reason for the woolly rhinos' extinction: climate change.

The last of the woolly rhinos went extinct in Siberia nearly 14,000 years ago, just when the Earth's climate began changing from its frozen conditions to something warmer, wetter and less favorable to the large land mammal. DNA tests conducted by scientists on 14 well-preserved rhinos point to rapid warming as the culprit, CNN reported.

"Humans are well known to alter their environment and so the assumption is that if it was a large animal it would have been useful to people as food and that must have caused its demise," says Edana Lord, a graduate student at the Center for Paleogenetics in Stockholm, Sweden, and co-first author of the paper, Smithsonian Magazine reported. "But our findings highlight the role of rapid climate change in the woolly rhino's extinction."

The study, published in Current Biology, notes that the rhino population stayed fairly consistent for tens of thousands of years until 18,500 years ago. That means that people and rhinos lived together in Northern Siberia for roughly 13,000 years before rhinos went extinct, Science News reported.

The findings are an ominous harbinger for large species during the current climate crisis. As EcoWatch reported, nearly 1,000 species are expected to go extinct within the next 100 years due to their inability to adapt to a rapidly changing climate. Tigers, eagles and rhinos are especially vulnerable.

The difference between now and the phenomenon 14,000 years ago is that human activity is directly responsible for the current climate crisis.

To figure out the cause of the woolly rhinos' extinction, scientists examined DNA from different rhinos across Siberia. The tissue, bone and hair samples allowed them to deduce the population size and diversity for tens of thousands of years prior to extinction, CNN reported.

Researchers spent years exploring the Siberian permafrost to find enough samples. Then they had to look for pristine genetic material, Smithsonian Magazine reported.

It turns out the wooly rhinos actually thrived as they lived alongside humans.

"It was initially thought that humans appeared in northeastern Siberia fourteen or fifteen thousand years ago, around when the woolly rhinoceros went extinct. But recently, there have been several discoveries of much older human occupation sites, the most famous of which is around thirty thousand years old," senior author Love Dalén, a professor of evolutionary genetics at the Center for Paleogenetics, said in a press release.

"This paper shows that woolly rhino coexisted with people for millennia without any significant impact on their population," Grant Zazula, a paleontologist for Canada's Yukon territory and Simon Fraser University who was not involved in the research, told Smithsonian Magazine. "Then all of a sudden the climate changed and they went extinct."

A large patch of leaked oil and the vessel MV Wakashio near Blue Bay Marine Park off the coast of southeast Mauritius on Aug. 6, 2020. AFP via Getty Images

The environmental disaster that Mauritius is facing is starting to appear as its pristine waters turn black, its fish wash up dead, and its sea birds are unable to take flight, as they are limp under the weight of the fuel covering them. For all the damage to the centuries-old coral that surrounds the tiny island nation in the Indian Ocean, scientists are realizing that the damage could have been much worse and there are broad lessons for the shipping industry, according to Al Jazeera.

Read More Show Less
A quality engineer examines new solar panels in a factory. alvarez / Getty Images

Transitioning to renewable energy can help reduce global warming, and Jennie Stephens of Northeastern University says it can also drive social change.

For example, she says that locally owned businesses can lead the local clean energy economy and create new jobs in underserved communities.

"We really need to think about … connecting climate and energy with other issues that people wake up every day really worried about," she says, "whether it be jobs, housing, transportation, health and well-being."

To maximize that potential, she says the energy sector must have more women and people of color in positions of influence. Research shows that leadership in the solar industry, for example, is currently dominated by white men.

"I think that a more inclusive, diverse leadership is essential to be able to effectively make these connections," Stephens says. "Diversity is not just about who people are and their identity, but the ideas and the priorities and the approaches and the lens that they bring to the world."

So she says by elevating diverse voices, organizations can better connect the climate benefits of clean energy with social and economic transformation.

Reposted with permission from Yale Climate Connections.

The frozen meat section at a supermarket in Hong Kong, China, in February. Chukrut Budrul / SOPA Images / LightRocket via Getty Images

Imported frozen food in three Chinese cities has tested positive for the new coronavirus, but public health experts say you still shouldn't worry too much about catching the virus from food or packaging.

Read More Show Less
This image of the Santa Monica Mountains in California shows how a north-facing slope (left) can be covered in white-blooming hoaryleaf ceanothus (Ceanothus crassifolius), while the south-facing slope (right) is much less sparsely covered in a completely different plant. Noah Elhardt / Wikimedia Commons / CC by 2.5

By Mark Mancini

If weather is your mood, climate is your personality. That's an analogy some scientists use to help explain the difference between two words people often get mixed up.

Read More Show Less
Flames from the Lake Fire burn on a hillside near a fire truck and other vehicles on Aug. 12, 2020 in Lake Hughes, California. Mario Tama / Getty Images

An "explosive" wildfire ignited in Los Angeles county Wednesday, growing to 10,000 acres in a little less than three hours.

Read More Show Less

Trending

Although heat waves rarely get the attention that hurricanes do, they kill far more people per year in the U.S. and abroad. greenaperture / Getty Images

By Jeff Berardelli

Note: This story was originally published on August 6, 2020

If asked to recall a hurricane, odds are you'd immediately invoke memorable names like Sandy, Katrina or Harvey. You'd probably even remember something specific about the impact of the storm. But if asked to recall a heat wave, a vague recollection that it was hot during your last summer vacation may be about as specific as you can get.

Read More Show Less