The threat posed by fracking to water quality is an issue receiving a lot of attention lately (see here, here, and here, for instance), as is the looming collapse of the fracking boom. But the Center for Environmental Health, suspecting that the whole story wasn't being told, partnered with 15 different local, state, and national organizations to study fracking's impact on the air we breathe, and the results are not pretty.
Since 2012, community groups in six states—Arkansas, Colorado, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wyoming—have been collecting air samples at oil and gas development sites where horizontal drilling, fracking, and other unconventional drilling and well stimulation techniques were employed.
The results, which were written up in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Health and are also available in the report “Warning Signs: Toxic Air Pollution Identified at Oil and Gas Development Sites,” were analyzed by CEH and a team of specialists, who describe the results as “shocking.” The key takeaways:
- Fifteen of the 35 “grab” air samples (meaning, where air is intentionally drawn into a sampling device), had concentrations of volatile chemicals that exceeded federal exposure risk levels for cancer, or for non-cancer health effects.
- Fourteen of the 41 passive samples (where air naturally passes through a sampling device) had concentrations of volatile chemicals that exceeded federal exposure risk levels for cancer, or for non-cancer health effects.
- One sample had air pollution levels that may pose an immediate danger to life or health, according to Centers for Disease Control guidelines.
- Benzene, a known human carcinogen, was detected at sample locations in Pennsylvania and Wyoming, in levels exceeding health-based standards by several orders of magnitude.
- In three states, formaldehyde was detected at levels exceeding the health-based standards of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).
At least 37% of the more than 600 chemicals used in fracking are endocrine disruptors, according to the report. Other health impacts from chemicals associated with oil and gas development include headaches, impaired motor function, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, liver damage, heart attacks, and cancers of the lungs, nose, and throat.