Air Monitoring & Biomonitoring finds Industry’s Natural Gas is not “Clean” and “Safe.” Toxic Chemicals Linked To Natural Gas Operations Detected In Pavillion, WY Residents

Study Finds Chemicals In Residents Living Near Gas Wells by Sydney Pereira, June 16, 2016, Common Dreams
The Colorado Supreme Court has struck down attempts by two cities to ban or delay fracking. The Monday, May 2, 2016, ruling is a victory for the oil and gas industry and for state officials who say only state government can regulate energy, not cities or counties.

On Thursday, environmental health groups and community members from Pavillion, Wyoming released the first study of its kind linking chemicals released from gas and oil production sites to those in bodies of residents living near the wells. In the town of 240 residents and another 200 living east of the town, community members have railed against the EPA and state agencies to act on fracking activities in their communities for years. This report, however, is the first to track air pollutants from the gas wells in the residents themselves.

The report found that residents who live near the gas sites have a higher amount of the chemicals in their urine than the general population. Scientists focused on how oil and gas fields can pollute the air and how that pollution ends up in humans living nearby. That’s a point Wilma Subra, president of the Subra Company involved in the study, and other leaders in the study have been emphasizing.

“If you have contaminated air, you have no choice but to breathe it,” Subra, who has worked on environmental health research across the country, told ThinkProgress. “That’s why it is so important to help citizens understand the quality of the air they are breathing.”

John Fenton, a Pavillion resident and farmer, said in a release that his family “has experienced phantom odors, rashes, hair loss, respiratory conditions, neurological problems, epileptic seizures, cancer, and huge hits to how we think and reason.”

In a 2014 presentation, he said “we went from living on a farm to living on a refinery.” His farm is within 350 feet of a gas well, according to the presentation. He first saw health impacts in his mother-in-law, who lost her sense of smell and taste. Later, his wife experienced similar symptoms. He goes on to explain many women often have neuropathy, men experience chronic fatigue and ringing in the ears, and children have nosebleeds and even kidney problems.

“This biomonitoring project was an opportunity to find out if the chemicals we know are in the air, are also in our bodies,” Fenton said.

The environmental health groups who worked on this study and past ones have been closely involved with the community. It’s critical for them to have some understanding of what is happening in their lives and their health, Subra said.

Eight chemicals were found in the air near Pavillion and the bodies of participants. These chemicals, termed by scientists as ‘volatile organic compounds’ (VOCs), are linked to several immediate and long-term health problems, including: eye, nose, and throat irritation; headaches; lower cognitive function; loss of coordination and nausea; and damage to liver, kidney and central nervous system. Some VOCs are considered to be carcinogens. The study focused on a specific family of VOCs called BTEX (Benzene, Toluene, Ethylbenzene, and Xylenes).

For instance, the median level of “trans,transmuconic acid” (ttMA — a benzene chemical) in the residents of Pavillion was 10 times higher than the general population. For hippuric acid — a toulene chemical — the median level was 80 percent higher than the general population. Both of these are ranked as a substance of high concern according to the GreenScreen method. Benzene is highly carcinogenic and linked to gene mutation, reproductive toxicity, and developmental toxicity. Toulene is linked to reproductive and developmental toxicity.

The seemingly less serious issues linked with VOCs become serious when people have to deal with them every day.

“If you have a child that has a nosebleed every single day, it is so scary for the parents and that child,” Katie Huffling, Director of Programs at Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments, told ThinkProgress. “Why can’t we get it to go away? What’s causing it?”

When it comes to small issues like this, “if you’re dealing with that day after day, and that’s where your home is, that can be a significant impact on your quality of life,” said Huffling, a nurse-midwife who worked to condense health data to engage health professionals on how to address the health impacts from gas and oil production sites.

Since the number of gas sites have sharply increased in recent years, there is no current scientific analysis on the health impact from long-term exposures to VOC mixtures around oil and gas sites, according to the report. To eliminate confounding factors, participants avoided everyday activities which lead to exposure of VOCs including filling car, truck, or tractor gas tanks, being around cigarette smoke, burning trash, driving farm equipment, and using pesticides or other household products with VOCs for the duration of the study.

Fracking’s Total Environmental Impact Is Staggering, Report Finds

This study is a follow-up to a 2014 report in six different states which showed that some emissions near oil and gas sites in Wyoming were up to 7,000 times higher than the health standards set by U.S. federal environmental and health agencies. [Emphasis added]

2016 06 16 coming clean report, photo typical gas well in pavillion, encana oil & gas

Snap from photo in the report: Typical gas well pad in Pavillion with a well
(center) and produced water tank (left).

Toxic Chemicals Linked To Natural Gas Operations Detected In The Bodies Of Pavillion, WY Residents Press Release by coming clean, June 16, 2016

Using Both Air Monitoring and New Biomonitoring Methods, Researchers Aim to Connect the Dots Between Air Emissions from Gas Operations and Human Health Impacts

For a full copy of the report and supporting materials click here.

[Pavillion, WY] – Today, a coalition of community and environmental health groups released first-of-its-kind research combining air monitoring methods with new biomonitoring techniques to determine if toxic air emissions from natural gas operations could be detected in the bodies of nearby residents. The study, titled “When the Wind Blows: Tracking Toxic Chemicals in Gas Fields and Impacted Communities”, found evidence of eight hazardous chemicals emitted from Pavillion, Wyoming gas infrastructure in the urine of study participants. Many of those chemicals were present in the participants’ bodies at concentrations far exceeding background averages in the U.S. population.

“If your drinking water is contaminated with toxic chemicals you might be able to make do with another source, but if your air is toxic you can’t choose to breathe somewhere else,” said Deb Thomas, Director of ShaleTest, who lives in Wyoming and was one of the study leaders. She continued, “No matter which way the wind blows, gas development involves so many emissions sources that people can’t help but to be exposed to toxic chemicals from their operations. Unfortunately, this is what everybody who is living with oil or gas drilling now has to look forward to if that drilling leads to production.”

Science experts along with community members from Pavillion used a variety of air monitoring and biomonitoring methods in concert to understand if air emissions from gas production equipment are being absorbed into the bodies of nearby residents. They then used new biomonitoring methods that have been developed to detect the signature of hazardous chemicals in study participants through the metabolites, or ‘break-down’ products and other evidence of toxic chemical exposure. 

John Fenton, a Pavillion resident and farmer said, “match up with the known effects of the toxic chemicals emitted in our air from gas production operations.  This biomonitoring project was an opportunity to find out if the chemicals we know are in the air, are also in our bodies.”

Researchers found volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the air emitted from gas operations in Pavillion, and in the air immediately surrounding people working and living in the area. Later, researchers found evidence of these same chemicals in study participants’ bodies.

The study focused on VOCs, and a specific family of VOCs named BTEX chemicals (Benzene, Toluene, Ethylbenzene, and Xylenes), because these chemicals are known to be hazardous to human health, even at low levels. VOCs detected in this study are linked to chronic diseases such as cancer, reproductive or developmental disorders; as well as respiratory problems, headaches, nosebleeds, and skin rashes. Study leaders note that because VOCs are so ubiquitous in products and in our homes, it is possible that the VOCs detected in participants’ bodies came from multiple sources. Having conducted this new “methods development” for air and biomonitoring of these toxic chemicals, researchers hope to improve upon these methods to further understand how these chemicals travel through the environment.

When the Wind Blows” details these specific findings:

  • Air sampling found toxic chemicals present in the air near Pavillion, including BTEX chemicals, which are consistent with those associated with oil and gas production and its associated infrastructure. This finding is consistent with previous air monitoring findings from the Pavillion area as well as many other oil and gas production sites across the nation.
  • Urine sample analysis (biomonitoring) found hazardous breakdown products and evidence (metabolites) of BTEX chemicals and other VOCs associated oil and gas production – in the bodies of the Pavillion area residents who participated in this study.
  • Eight chemicals linked to chronic diseases such as cancer or other illnesses, including reproductive or developmental disorders and health problems such as respiratory difficulties, headaches, nosebleeds, skin rashes, and depression, were detected both in the air near Pavillion and in the bodies of project participants.
  • The results from both human and air monitoring indicate that communities living or working near gas development operations may be intermittently exposed to complex mixtures of chemical substances associated with oil and gas production. Little information exists about how VOCs in mixtures interact with each other and in the human body, but scientific research indicates that in some cases VOCs might interact in ways (or combine with other factors) that increase health risks humans in humans.
  • Levels of some hazardous VOCs in air both near the gas production sites and that study participants were breathing exceeded one or more Environmental Screening Level (ESLs), which are air concentration thresholds set by public health agencies and environmental regulators above which there is risk to human health.
  • Hazardous breakdown products of VOCs were present in the urine of study participants at much higher levels than those found in the general population, with one example up to ten times higher.
  • The high hazard of the chemicals emitted into the air, together with the findings that the levels of certain VOC metabolites in urine of the people studied are well above the levels in the general population, send a clear signal that further action needs to be taken to prevent exposures.

Wilma Subra, an award-winning biochemist and one of the scientists involved in the project, said, “It’s outrageous that Pavillion residents don’t know if toxic chemicals are in their air or bodies, especially since gas production has been going on here for decades. We may just be finding out, and proving, that they’ve been exposed to toxic chemicals in the air for thirty years. Hopefully, the methods that we developed through this study will help them get better protections from government agencies responsible for public health – and help other communities across the nation get the protections they deserve.”  [Where are government agencies helping communities/families/livestock harmed by the oil and gas industry? If sick citizens try to get help with ailments linked to oil and gas, they’re mostly shunned by the conventional medical system sworn to help them, and discredited, intimidated, bullied, lied to and abused by the regulatory agencies mandated to regulate the industry poisoning them.] 

The report also contains hazards assessments, conducted by Clean Production Action, for many of the toxic chemicals detected in the air or bodies of Pavillion residents.  The GreenScreen for Safer Chemicals analysis presented in the report is a globally recognized tool designed to succinctly present known science on hazards associated with specific chemicals, as well as data gaps where hazard research hasn’t been conducted. The GreenScreen analysis shows that many of the chemicals detected in the air around Pavillion and in the bodies of study participants are extremely hazardous, and should be avoided – although Pavillion residents have been unable to avoid these ongoing exposures now for decades.

Based on the findings of this report and the new methods developed to understand health impacts resulting from gas operation’s air emissions, report authors and affiliated groups are making the follow recommendations:

  • Additional biomonitoring testing is needed to help understand and prevent exposure to toxic chemicals.
  • Further investigation into the harmful impacts of cumulative exposure to multiple chemicals – and the endocrine disrupting effects of these chemicals – is needed.
  • Implement precautionary regulations, and ensure disclosure and transparency for the public. Current regulations appear to be failing communities living near gas development operations, and regulatory agencies already have enough emissions data available to justify swift action to protect public health and the environment right now.
  • Promote clean, renewable energy sources and stop promoting natural gas as “clean” and “safe.” The data and the hazard assessments presented in this report show VOC emissions, which appear unavoidable in natural gas production. This indicates that production cannot be carried out in a manner that truly protects workers or the public. Truly protecting workers, community members and the public from these toxic hazards requires a comprehensive change in our energy system – to clean energy like solar and wind power.
  • Provide ongoing monitoring, health evaluation and site remediation to protect people already affected by oil and gas production.

Elizabeth Crowe, Co-Director of Coming Clean, an environmental health collaborative that coordinated the project, said, “The data collected through this research shows that oil and gas development poses daily health hazards to families and communities.

Gas production is not safe or clean.

We need protective action on toxic emissions from the EPA and state agencies, for existing oil and gas sites and at every phase of the oil and gas production cycle. This action will help move our economy toward safe, clean renewable energy sources that won’t harm our health or the environment.”

A full copy of “When the Wind Blows: Tracking Toxic Chemicals in Gas Fields and Impacted Communities” and supporting materials can be found here:


Snaps and quotes from the report:

Although hydraulic fracking has been used as a method for extracting gas in Pavillion, in general, gas production in the area uses conventional methods, where the concern focuses on the toxic VOCs that are inherent to gas production.

2016 06 16 Encana Pavillion Wyoming frac field, blue dots residences, red dots energy production sites

2016 06 16 coming clean report, chemicals in urine pavillion residents, wyoming, august 2014

2016 06 16 coming clean report, Key biomonitoring findings, chemicals and metabolities

[Refer also to:

2015 11 23: Prevent Cancer Now calls out AER’s Health Fraud! “The AER has no jurisdiction for human health, and Alberta is famed for a chill against the medical community linking ill health to petrochemicals.” ]

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