What is the real, long-term risk of getting cancer from living near gas wells?
New analysis highlights toxin findings
State agency looks at risks from compounds found at gas facilities
12:21 AM CDT on Wednesday, June 30, 2010
By Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe
Everyday you learn something new. I didn’t know that natural gas facilities, because they operate on a permit by rule, are not required to report their benzene releases to the federal inventory. That means that national gas toxic compounds were not included when Texas was declared the most toxic state for releasing 1,987,865 pounds of benzene in 2008. Since Texas has the most oil and gas production by a long shot, that means we are like the toxic state on crack. UPDATE: Texas is 3.97 times more toxic than the next most toxic state, Louisiana WITHOUT considering the emissions from oil and gas development.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency’s hazard summary for benzene, continuously breathing air with an average of 0.4 ppb of benzene increases cancer risk to 1 in 100,000 over a lifetime.
In July, TCEQ will release their inventory of permanent Barnett Shale equipment in July. Until then, we don’t even know how many compressors are operating here.
Devon Energy alone has 80 compression stations in the Barnett Shale region, Minty said.
Devon is often held up as the most environmentally responsible operator in the Barnett Shale. When I read the levels of toxic compounds that one “responsible” operator is releasing–on a continuing basis–I’m outraged.
You can go calculate your risk of getting cancer from living in the gas patch in the Benzene by the Numbers section of the article. The paper copy has charts. When you read that article, please remember this: BENZENE IS NOT THE ONLY TOXIC OF CONCERN.
To answer the question that I often hear: “Why isn’t the EPA doing anything?” Read the following. The shorthand version: The EPA was neutered from 2000 – 2008. Now they are beefing up and taking aggressive action but it takes some time.
EPA Toxics Standards for Cities Are 10 Years Late, IG Report Says
It is important that EPA set minimum standards because…
“About half of the States and several local agencies have laws preventing them from implementing environmental regulations stricter than EPA’s regulations,” the inspector general concluded. “Without the establishment of a minimum, federally required risk-based program, we do not believe that all state and local agencies will implement programs to adequately address the health risks from urban air toxics.”
According to the most recent risk assessment, about half of the increased cancer risk attributed to air toxics is linked to two chemicals — benzene and carbon tetrachloride (Greenwire, June 26, 2009).
But a GAO report reveals that funding cuts made air toxics a low EPA priority. From 2001 – 2009, funding for air toxics fell more than 70 percent.
“Limited resources over the past eight years have impaired our ability to fully implement these programs,” the agency said.
In 1999 Integrated Urban Air Toxics Strategy found increased cancer risks from exposure to emissions from smaller pollution sources such as cars, dry cleaners and gas stations. [and natural gas facilities]
Cancer risks – 1 in 28,000 (2 million live in areas where risk is 1 in 10,000 or greater.)
Though area sources produce less emissions than major sources, they are “especially badly controlled,” [like natural gas facilities] Earthjustice attorney Jim Pew said. Small businesses often have greater human health impacts because there are so many of them, he said, compounded by the fact that they are often located in residential neighborhoods rather than industrial parks.
The EPA has promised to use emissions data from 2005 to updated the risk assessment this summer.
About Sharon Wilson
Sharon Wilson is considered a leading citizen expert on the impacts of shale oil and gas extraction. She is the go-to person whether it’s top EPA officials from D.C., national and international news networks, or residents facing the shock of eminent domain and the devastating environmental effects of natural gas development in their backyards.
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Iris Marie Bloom says
This is a super important post. Thanks to TX Sharon for explaining just how toxic these VOCs are, and the lax reporting about them. As Phelim McAleer makes his rounds on a massive disinformation campaign, trying to rewrite history and pretend these VOCs don’t exist, making false claims that no air contamination in DISH took place, and trying to cover up the fact that people can certainly get cancer and other health impacts from breathing benzene, toluene, xylene, etc. — information like this is so important to keep sharing. Follow the links, follow the facts, and keep educating the broader public, even if you feel like you’ve “already said it.” Confusion is now being manufactured on a scale I’ve never seen before in my lifetime, so thanks for the clarity, TX Sharon.