MEDICAL-ENVIRONMENTAL REPORT: A Review of the Potential Health Effects of the Proposed Sable Gas Pipeline Project from the perspective of Environmentally Induced Illness/Chemical Sensitivity, Asthma and Allergy

MEDICAL-ENVIRONMENTAL REPORT: A Review of the Potential Health Effects of the Proposed Sable Gas Pipeline Project from the perspective of Environmentally Induced Illness/Chemical Sensitivity, Asthma and Allergy by Karen McAllister and Helen Lofgren, 1997, Prepared as part of an undertaking by the Allergy and Environmental Health Association
The use of natural gas as fuel for stoves, furnaces and other appliances contributes substantially to indoor air pollution. In Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s (CMHC) Clean Air Guide (1993), natural gas appliances (gas water heaters, furnaces, unvented space heaters and cook stoves) are identified as significant contributers of chemical contamination in the home. … “Natural gas is advertised as the “clean fuel”. This may be so from the point of view of visible smog-producing residues, but for the chemically susceptible individual this gas may be the worst form of fuel.” (Randolph 1981:86). … The emission of Benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene (BTEX) from natural gas processing is of concern both environmental and human health. Benzene is known to be carcinogenic at doses considered to be below its toxic threshhold. Exposure to benzene has been correlated with elevated risk of cancer, especially leukemia. It is estimated that 77 percent of Canada’s benzene emissions originate from natural gas dehydrators (Tushingham 1994). … Inhalation of high concentrations of methane can cause symptoms ranging from a craving for fresh air, rapid and irregular breathing, headache, fatigue and exhaustion, to loss of consciousness, convulsions and death from hypoxemia (Environment Canada 1984:56-7).

Characteristics of natural gas which are of concern to human and animal health include:
1. its highly flammable and explosive nature,
2. its asphyxiant properties,
3. products generated from the combustion of natural gas, especially as contributors to indoor air pollution. …,
4. the presence of radioactive elements (radium and radon) in natural gas,
5. the presence of highly toxic H2S in certain gas deposits, and the environmental and health effects of refining such sour gas,
6. the presence of trace amounts of toxic metals in some gas deposits,
7. the toxicity of odourants added to the sales gas, especially with respect to people with multiple chemical sensitivities, and
8. the sensitizing effects of natural gas.
… Radon is known to contribute to the development of lung cancer. Using natural gas as a fuel source in the home can increase the total concentration of indoor radon. … Radon222 is present in some natural gas, and may be brought to the surface in tubing and product lines which can become contaminated (Wilson 1994:44). Radon gas is often mixed with methane in natural gas. Because it decays to radioactive lead (Pb210) within 3.8 days, it creates a thin layer of Pb210 (on average 0.004 inches thick) which coats the inside surfaces of pipes and equipment (Wilson 1996:84,169). … Abrasive cleaning is required to remove this. … Some deposits of natural gas have been found to naturally contain high concentrations of heavy metals, including lead (Pb), Copper (Cu), Mercury (Hg), Silver (Ag), and Arsenic (As) (Kucha et al 1993; Mohan et al 1992; Boogaard and Journ‚e 1996). … Many organometallic compounds are highly toxic (Manahan 1991:117-141). The compounds of concern in natural gas include dimethylmercury ((CH3)2Hg), organolead compounds (Ch3)4Pb, and organoarsenic compounds (CH3)3As. Dimethylmercury ((CH3)2Hg) is a particularly dangerous organometallic compound because of its volatility and high lipid solubility, resulting in a high level of absorption and tendency to bioaccumulate and biomagnify in the fatty tissues of mammals and fish (Manahan 1991:133). Methyl mercury can be absorbed through inhalation because of its high vapour pressure, and can also be absorbed through the skin. The uptake of Methyl mercury is nearly 100% in the gastrointestinal tract (Manahan 1991:133). Mercury has neurotoxic and reproductive effects on humans. There is no human requirement for mercury, nor any safe level.

Epidemiological studies have suggested that petroleum and natural gas workers are at elevated risk for certain types of cancer, including cancers affecting the intestinal tract, brain, skin, leukemia, testis, and multiple myeloma (Schechter 1989; Mills et al 1984; Wiggins 1986). Natural gas workers may be exposed to radon radiation in natural gas during processing, storing equipment, and cleaning of equipment (Gesell 1975; Nigro and Bunn 1996). They are also exposed to any heavy metals in the natural gas. A Dutch study considers the occupational health problems of natural gas workers exposed to mercury in gas deposits (Boogaard and Journ‚e 1996). Workers are potentially exposed to large concentrations of elemental Hg, especially when opening installations for inspection or maintenance operations. Air measurements established that exposure during maintenance operations was high, in spite of personal protection equipment, and that Hg concentrations in some areas exceeded the Dutch exposure limit value of 50 micrograms/m3. Other studies of individuals exposed to similar concentrations showed long term neural and tremor effects, and renal problems.

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