Health and environmental presentation examines shale drilling impacts
By Michelle Robinson, CG News
On Thursday the “Impacts to Air Quality & Public Health from Shale Drilling” presentation took place at The Ridges Auditorium for members of the Athens community.
The presenter was Deborah Cowden MD, president of Greene County Medical Society. The purpose of the event was to inform the public of the health and environmental impacts from shale drilling.
As drilling injection sites are increasing in Ohio, citizens and researchers are raising concerns about the effects shale drilling could have on the public.
“It is a myth that high volume hydraulic fracking is a 60-year-old, well-proven technology,” Cowden said. “But the truth is that the process is still being developed.”
When fracking is done correctly chemicals are still being released into the air, Cowden said. These include dust, silica, and volatile organics from condensation tanks, compressor stations and rogue gas evaporation pits. Additionally, other toxins can be released due to accidents such as flaring, blowouts and pit flow-back.
“When they drill they use a lot of energy – they bring their own, and their fracking pumps run on diesel fuel,” Cowden said.
Diesel fuels from drilling engines, large fracking pumps and truck traffic also contribute to the toxins released into the air during shale drilling. An estimated 300-1300 trucks are used per fracking site, Cowden said.
Cowden presented results from a Human Health Risk Assessment on air emissions, conducted by the Colorado School of Public Heath. The objective of the study was to observe the effects of gasses being emitted from shale drilling sites and to promote risk prevention from chronic and sub-chronic diseases that could be contracted by living in close proximity to drilling sites.
Air samples were collected every six days and tested for chemicals from Jan. 2008 through Nov. 2010. Among the chemicals found, methane, benzene and alkanes were the most common.
Health effects from exposure to benzene include acute and chronic non-lymphocytic leukemia, anemia and other blood disorders.
“If they drill a well, flow-back can last from 3-5 years,” said Cowden. This means an extended period of exposure to chemicals in the water and air for surrounding citizens, she said.
Between 47 to 78 chemicals were detected during the study, exposing workers and people who live around drilling sites to multiple chemicals.
According to the Athens County Fracking Action Network site, 93 percent of chemicals detected while fracking are known to cause negative health effects. Exposure can also cause a difficulty in breathing, as well as nervous system impairments. Wind can move toxins to surrounding areas, which can also produce respiratory effects and impaired lung functions for citizens living farther away from the drilling site.
The study concluded that sub-chronic exposure to air pollutants after a well is constructed and is ready for drilling, presents the greatest potential for adverse health effects.
Additionally, Cowden said that in Ohio there are currently no plans for evacuation in case of fracking accidents.