Picture a time capsule — not dark and unearthed from the ground — but transparent, with clues only detectable in a laboratory. That may be what ordinary Americans have been creating with their air quality sampling around oil and gas extraction sites throughout the United States. This time capsule holds clues to a future, years down the road, when substances like benzene, formaldehyde, hydrogen sulfide and other volatile organic compounds will have tricked their way into the endocrine systems of US residents who’ve been repeatedly exposed, when a predictable percentage of them may get chronically ill.
Why be concerned about a little bit of formaldehyde or benzene in the air? Medical doctor David Carpenter explains the health concerns about air quality data gathered from US fracking sites.
“The health concerns are multiple. A major one is cancer, but cancer takes years to develop after exposure, so I would not expect cancer rates to be elevated until about 5-10 years after fracking started. Another major problem is respiratory infections, asthma attacks, sore throats etc. These are reported around fracking sites, and are known to result from exposure to volatile organic chemicals. There are nosebleeds, almost certainly a result of breathing in formaldehyde, which pickles the nasal epithelium. Then there are the nervous system symptoms, especially headaches and a sense of ‘brain fog’ where memory and alertness is diminished. Again these are known health effects of breathing in volatile organic compounds.”
Carpenter is Director of the Institute for Health and the Environment at the University at Albany. Dr. Carpenter is an author of the peer-reviewed article published in the journal Environmental Health titled Air concentrations of volatile compounds near oil and gas production: a community-based exploratory study. The study involves air quality samples collected by trained volunteers from six difference communities, then examined in a laboratory. The study reveals levels of known or suspected cancer causing substances detected in the air around fracking sites, some very close to homes, farms and schools.
Emily Lane is familiar with the headaches and nosebleeds that friends and family have experienced in her home state of Arkansas. We first told you about bucket brigade collections by her sister-in-law, April and other trained community members in the spring of 2013. The concerns about air and water quality followed recent escalation of natural gas and oil extraction from the Fayetteville shale region that is home to approximately 200,000 people.
“These residents, me included, just from living in the area, had some really nasty health symptoms,” said Emily Lane. “Finally after two years of hard work, we have this journal article that backs us up.”
Other states involved in this community air monitoring were Colorado, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wyoming.
Several grassroots community groups took part in the training and air sampling, taking on a service that local health officials either can’t or won’t do. Multiple nonprofit groups helped organize the monitoring and testing. This including Coming Clean, which summed up from this study,
“Results show a wide range of hazardous chemicals are present in the air at levels above federal health and safety standards. In some cases, monitors revealed concentrations of hazardous chemicals high enough to pose an immediate health threat to people.”
This story hit especially close to home for me, as an Ozarks native from just a ways down the road from our Arkansas neighbors. It was especially disturbing when my youngest daughter became ill on the day I visited to report on this story in 2013. I shared about this experience at the website of Moms Clean Air Force.
More details from the study here from Global Community Monitor.