Today I sent the following email to a number of people who are involved in making decisions about when and how drilling can proceed in Denton and Dallas.
I want to put a stop once and for all to the notion that the Dish, Texas blood and urine study done by the state did not show high levels of drilling chemicals in the resident’s blood and urine. That notion came from the state’s spin on the report for which they were roasted at the Dish public meeting. That notion is often repeated by industry to enable irresponsible drilling.
From my email:
I apologize for the length of this email. I know we all have more to read these days than is humanly possible. But, this is important and some of you are charged with making decisions that could have enormous implications for Denton resident’s health. Please read it.
Much of the information in this report, A Perspective on Health and Natural Gas Operations: A Report for Denton City Council, is quite helpful to us in pushing for better oil and gas regulations and I appreciate the effort that went into the preparation.
Perhaps I did not fully understand the purpose of the report. I thought and hoped it would debunk some of the spin that accompanied the release of the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) blood and urine study in Dish but instead it repeated the DSHS’s spin. This same spin is often repeated at council meetings across the Barnett Shale as a way to justify irresponsible drilling practices–drilling too close to where people live. Gilbert Horton a Devon representative told the Ponder Council that the Dish health study showed no elevated levels of chemicals in the residents blood. (Gilbert got 20 minutes to speak while I got two minutes.) Ed Ireland repeats the same spin on his BSEEC website.
I sent the report to Calvin Tillman, former mayor of Dish and, today, he wrote a response which I will paste below. Also pasted below, is an analysis from Earthworks’ Oil and Gas Accountability Project scientists. This analysis is also found in FLOWBACK: How the Texas Natural Gas Boom Affects Health and Safety starting in the second column on page 11 and continuing through page 12 including a chart.
Please note: VOCs only stay in the blood for a few hours (approximately 4 to 6 according the the TDSHS staff at the Dish meeting). All participants were asked to stay home all morning before their blood was drawn to exclude possible workplace exposures. Calvin Tillman was on vacation so was home for several days yet they blamed the levels in his tests on his commute to work. This was echoed for many of the participants. Rather than blame the elephant in the room, even when the DSHS admitted smelling odors, they blamed the Windex in the cabinet or cigarette smoke when only four of the 28 participants were smokers. There was no consideration for the distance the participants were from the facility or the wind direction. I could go further but…
From FLOWBACK: How the Texas Natural Gas Boom Affects Health and Safety (footnotes removed for ease in reading):
Texas Department of Health Services
In October 2009, the Texas Department of State Health Services (DHS) was asked by the mayor of Dish to test people in the community for contaminants that had been identified in the community’s air. In January 2010, DHS staff collected blood and urine samples from 28 adults, as well as tap water samples from 27 of the residents’ homes. To provide a control population, blood and urine samples were also taken from five DHS staff members who collected the samples.
If a volatile organic compound (VOC) is detected in blood or urine, it indicates the person is currently being or has recently been exposed to the chemical. According to DHS, “VOCs only stay in the body for a short time (several hours); therefore these measurements only reflect ongoing or recent exposures, and not historical exposures.” A high level does not necessarily mean that a person will experience health effects, nor does a lower concentration indicate that there will be no health effects. Individuals are not equally susceptible to a particular chemical – some are more sensitive, some may be exposed to many chemicals at the same time, and these chemicals may interact or the effects add up to cause an impact to a person’s health. DHS compared concentrations of VOCs in DISH residents’ blood to what is known as a 95% reference value for each chemical – 95% of the U.S. population has concentrations below that level. If a chemical is found at a higher concentration than the reference level, it means the person has recently been exposed to an unusually large amount of the chemical compared to the rest of the population.
Blood from the Dish residents was tested for 33 different VOCs. Some of the chemicals are known to be present in cigarette smoke (2,5-dimethylfuran, styrene and BTEX chemicals – benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylenes), so results were tallied separately for smokers and non-smokers. Major findings:
• A total of 15 VOCs were detected in the residents’ blood. Most frequently found were toluene (detected in 18 residents), m-/p-xylene (15 detections) and styrene (13 detections). A total of 14 VOCs were detected in non-smoking residents. The only chemical not found in the blood of at least one non-smoking resident was 2,5-dimethylfuran. This chemical is a biomarker known to be present in cigarette smoke and is generally undetectable in nonsmoking adults. Three VOCs known to be present in cigarette smoke were also found in non-smokers: toluene was found in 13 non-smokers, ethylbenzene in four, o-xylene in three and m-/p-xylenes in 10 non-smokers. If these residents were not exposed to these chemicals from smoking cigarettes, what are other sources of these chemicals? Natural gas, especially gas that has condensate associated with it,contains the BTEX chemicals, and these can be released to the air when gas is vented from compressor stations, pipelines, condensate tanks, well sites or gas processing plants. By comparison, only six VOCs were found in the blood of the DHS staffers who were nonsmokers.
In other words, approximately twice as many chemicals were detected in non-smokers from Dish than non-smokers from DHS staff.
• Some Dish residents have been exposed to VOCs at higher levels than 95% of the U.S. population. Of the chemicals detected in residents’ blood, 15 VOCs were found in at least one resident at a level that is higher than 95% of the U.S. general population. Three of the chemicals found in Dish non-smokers (bromoform, chloroform and dibromochloromethane) might be coming from the town’s water supply – they are known to be formed when chlorine is added to public water systems as a disinfectant. But nine other VOCs found at extremely high levels in the blood of nonsmoking residents of Dish cannot be linked to chlorinated tap water. Again, DHS staff did not have VOCs in their blood in concentrations as high as residents. Only one chemical –dibromochloromethane, likely from drinking chlorinated water – was found in DHS staff at a level higher than 95% of the general population.
Dish residents also provided urine samples to DHS staff. These samples were analyzed for breakdown products (known as metabolites) of four VOCs: PMA, a metabolite of benzene; DHBM, a metabolite of 1,3-butadiene; BMA, a metabolite of toluene; and AMCA, a metabolite of N,N-dimethylformamide, also known as DMF. All residents and DHS staff had urinary metabolites of 1,3-butadiene, toluene, and DMF. Three residents also had metabolites of benzene (two smokers, one nonsmoker). None of the urine samples from DHS staff contained metabolites of benzene. Residents also had higher levels of the metabolite of N,N-dimethylformamide than DHS staff and levels found in published research, but DHS staff could offer no reason for the high levels found in residents.
Although there are no recognized standards to determine safe levels in urine, the tests confirmed that residents of Dish are being exposed to benzene, toluene, 1,3-butadiene and N,N-dimethylformamide or other VOC chemicals.
The Texas Department of State Health Services (TDSHS) even came to DISH to take blood and urine samples. This showed several elevated chemicals in the blood and urine of over half of the households, and most of those chemicals had been found to be produced by the compressor station; however, the TDSHS said things like household chemicals and smoking caused the elevated levels, when only four of the twenty seven people tested actually smoked. I was one of the ones who gave samples for the test, and along with 2/3 of those tested, I had toluene in my system. The TDSHS blamed this exposure on my commute, which I had not accomplished in 72 hours, and the half life for toluene is said to be 4 hours. During the meeting where they presented this information, there were several questions posed that the TDSHS could not answer, such as what the number of men vs women that were tested, were there different results in men vs women, how far did each person live from a well or compressor site, did those who lived closer to wells or compressors have higher exposure than those living further away. After it became apparent that the person responsible did not do an effective study, she admitted that this was not a scientific study, and that it should not be looked at as such (you can find the presentation on youtube). However, it has been treated and touted as the smoking gun that things are fine…nothing to see here . There have even been those in academia who have supported this study after it was admittedly flawed, while both the university professors, and the TDSHS are both paid by the State of Texas, where negative talk about the oil and gas industry is not tolerated. Consequently, the governor, who has never had a real job, made a run for President of the United States due to his support from the oil and gas industry, although that is not working out to well for him.
I do not have PhD that follows my name, nor am any kind of scientist, doctor,or lawyer. I admittedly do not understand things like climate change or global warming, but I do believe that I have a little common sense, and I have a lot of smart people that consult me. Therefore, when the benzene level goes up, so does the risk of someone getting cancer, and my children waking up to massive nosebleeds is not normal. Since moving from DISH 9 months ago my children have not suffered one nosebleed in the middle of the night. So although I am not a scientist, and can’t explain why my children were getting nosebleeds, or why the noxious odors gave me a headache and a sore throat, I know I feel better now, have a lot more energy, and that moving out of Gasland was a smart move for me and my family. For those really smart people who think that everything is fine in Gasland, please let me know…I bet I could find you a great deal on a house with a compressor station in your back yard, because it is very easy to say things are fine, when you don’t have any skin in the game.
Let the spin end here.