HEALTH EFFECTS -- This page is under construction

Available studies show that exposure to air pollutants, toxic chemicals, metals, radiation, noise and light pollution cause a range of diseases, illnesses, and health problems, including psychological and social disruption. Neighborhoods, schools, and workers in close proximity to oil and gas activities may be at increased risk for cancer, cardiovascular disease, asthma, and other disorders due to uncontrolled or high exposures. Further research is needed to assess the health impact of oil and gas operations on surrounding communities.

Potential Exposure-Related Human Health Effects of Oil and Gas Development: A White Paper GarfieldCOhealthstudy.pdf

Using US EPA risk assessment tools to examine carcinogenic effects of air quality at oil and gas sites, researchers in Colorado found excess cancer risks from air pollution alone (from 5 to 58 additional cancers per million). At 86 percent of these sites, the human carcinogen benzene was found at hazardous levels. Airborne concentrations of other carcinogens were also elevated (Witter et al., 2008).

Appeal to Gov. Cuomo to Consider Cancer Risks Re: High Volume Hydraulic Fracturing for Natural Gas CancerFrackingDec12.pdf

Fracking fury reaches fever pitch in Erie


"We're just sick." Tears accompanied the words that came out of the mouth of April Beach, a mother of three boys who lives in Erie's Grandview neighborhood. Her family's symptoms -- asthma, dizziness, allergies and migraine headaches -- have all appeared in the wake of a natural gas-drilling operation that occurred a couple hundred feet from her home, she said.

Wendy Leonard, a relatively new arrival to Erie who lives across town from Beach, said her family hasn't felt well for months. She said she knows of five families on a single street near her that also have health problems.

Things have become so dire for Beach health-wise that she has made the decision to move out of Erie. Leonard said she too is looking for a new place to live.

Canadian oil and gas company Encana Corp. now has plans to drill eight natural gas wells on a site between Red Hawk Elementary School and Erie Elementary School.

Mayor Pro Tem Cheryl Hauger, has voiced a willingness to support a temporary ban on drilling so that the town can evaluate the rules it has in place.

Encana spokeswoman Wendy Wiedenbeck said she understands that residents may have concerns about nearby gas-drilling operations but knows of no causal link that has been made between health problems and her company's work in Erie.

The new state rule on disclosure of fracking fluids goes into effect April 1. Around the same time, the EPA is expected to release new air pollution rules for the industry that will have the effect of eliminating 38,000 tons of annual air pollutants related to drilling activity -- 30 percent of what is currently emitted.

On Dec. 20, Longmont City Council decided to push forward with a 120-day moratorium on drilling applications. Longmont Mayor Dennis Coombs said the city wanted to make sure it has the proper safeguards in place before allowing any more wells to be established. He said Erie might want to do the same.

"If they haven't updated their regulations, they should take a time-out to make sure they are protecting their citizens from this industrial process," he said.

Colorado's Chemical Injection

June 2008

According to industry data, at least 430 million gallons of chemical-laced fluids have been injected into more than 9,000 oil and gas wells in Colorado, mostly along the northern Front Range and the Western Slope.

The amount of fluid injected may be far greater than reported: There are currently more than 35,000 wells operating in Colorado and one industry expert has estimated that 90 percent of all wells receive chemical injections (COGCC 2008, Carrillo 2005).

Community Health Risk Analysis of Oil and Gas Industry Impacts in Garfield County

A general lack of data on pollutant concentrations in the environment limited the assessment.

The nature of the study and the available data make it impossible to provide definite causal relationships between observed health and exposure.

Benzene emissions during uncontrolled flowback present the greatest cancer threat. However the risk of cancer exceeds the EPA acceptable range only for a seventy-year exposure. A 70-year exposure to dehydration unit and condensate tank emissions may be more plausible, depending on the actual production life of natural gas resources in Garfield County.

The results of the risk assessment for air also indicate that reference concentrations for non-cancer effects may be exceeded for some situations.

- for flow back with no gas recovery, the benzene acute reference concentration of 30 micrograms per cubic meter is exceeded for distances up to 275 yards downwind.

These results suggest that emission of benzene during uncontrolled flow back is the situation that presents the greatest threat of non-cancer effects. These effects may occur in people who spend one day or more within a distance 250 meters downwind of the natural gas well when this operation is taking place. The non-cancer effects of benzene include neurotixicity and depression of bone marrow function, resulting in blood disorders and impairment of the immune system.

Natural gas operations do have the potential to create water contamination, and have done so in certain well-publicized instances. However, because of a lack of water data representative of broad areas of the county, a quantiative risk assessment for ingestion of contaminated ground water or surface water was not performed.

Generally speaking, the appearance of clinical cancer has a “lag” time of up to two decades following initiation of carcinogenesis. (Childhood cancers and some rare cancers are exceptions.)

Community Health Risk Analysis of Oil and Gas Industry Impacts in Garfield County

Garfield Cnty Health Executive Summary.pdf

Garfield County Air Toxics Inhalation : Screening Level Human Health Risk Assessment, June 2010

The oil and gas industry in Garfield County has grown rapidly since 2002. Increased oil and gas development activity within Garfield County has generated concerns about the impact on public health. The Garfield County Public Health Department (GCPHD) has been monitoring air quality since 2005 in response to residents’ concerns regarding the health impacts of increased oil and gas development activities.

The available information suggests a potential for public health impacts across the oil and gas development areas in Garfield County because of the following: The estimated cumulative lifetime cancer risks for the 6 air toxics with known toxicity values are at or slightly above the high-end of EPA’s acceptable cancer risk range of 1 to 100 excess cancers in a million (1E-06 to 1E-04) across all monitoring sites.

Garfield County Air Toxics Inhalation : Screening Level Human Health Risk Assessment June 2010


The Health Implications of Hydrofracking , Upstate Medical University Public Health Symposium

April 13, 2011 Adam Law, M.D.

Philip Von Hohenheim, better known as Paracelsus, is credited with the phrase "the dose makes the poison." Endocrine disrupting chemicals defy this principle by operating at extremely low concentrations. In fact, many do not display the usual monotonic dose-response curves. Some are more effective at lower rather than higher concentrations. Hence, the presence of endocrine-disrupting chemicals in parts per trillion to parts per billion can cause major biological effects.

Physicians Scientists & Engineers for Healthy Energy

The rush to drill for natural gas: a public health cautionary tale.

New drilling technology-horizontal drilling and high-volume hydraulic fracturing of shale (fracking)-has made gas extraction much more economically feasible. However, this technique poses a threat to the environment and to the public's health. There is evidence that many of the chemicals used in fracking can damage the lungs, liver, kidneys, blood, and brain. We discuss the controversial technique of fracking and raise the issue of how to balance the need for energy with the protection of the public's health.

Natural Gas Operations from a Public Health Perspective

The technology to recover natural gas depends on undisclosed types and amounts of toxic chemicals. A list of 944 products containing 632 chemicals used during natural gas operations was compiled. Literature searches were conducted to determine potential health effects of the 353 chemicals identified by Chemical Abstract Service (CAS) numbers. More than 75% of the chemicals could affect the skin, eyes, and other sensory organs, and the respiratory and gastrointestinal systems. Approximately 40-50% could affect the brain/nervous system, immune and cardiovascular systems, and the kidneys; 37% could affect the endocrine system; and 25% could cause cancer and mutations. These results indicate that many chemicals used during the fracturing and drilling stages of gas operations may have long-term health effects that are not immediately expressed. In addition, an example was provided of waste evaporation pit residuals that contained numerous chemicals on the CERCLA and EPCRA lists of hazardous substances. The discussion highlights the difficulty of developing effective water quality monitoring programs. To protect public health we recommend full disclosure of the contents of all products, extensive air and water monitoring, coordinated environmental/human health studies, and regulation of fracturing under the U.S. Safe Drinking Water Act.


65 Chemicals Used by Colorado Natural Gas Industry Listed Under 6 Federal Pollution Protection Laws

Health Impacts of Gas Drilling Examined

Many of the chemicals in these products have severe effects at low doses. One of these is 2- butoxyethanol, a solvent used in industrial cleaning solutions that, at doses as low as 0.02 parts per million, affects the endocrine system.

Another problem is that fracking chemicals injected underground into the shale, where the temperature is between 120 to 140 degrees, react, forming new chemicals. Shelley cited trihalomethanes; these chemicals are not present in the fracking fluids, but are formed underground.

Endocrine disruptors are manmade chemicals that, when absorbed into the body, mimic hormones or block hormones and disrupt the body's normal function. Hormones are involved in reproduction, growth, development and metabolism, said Adam Law, a physician who specializes in endocrinology. It doesn't take a lot of hormone to an effect on health.

So, too, it takes only a small quantity of endocrine disrupting chemical to impact health -- concentrations on the order of parts per trillion are enough to alter gene expression or cause birth defects or cancer.

February 6, 2008

1. The 215 products contain at least 278 chemicals.

2. Ninety-three percent of the products have one or more adverse health effects. Of these, 19% have one to three possible health effects, and 81% have between four and fourteen possible health effects. Twenty-five products have 14 adverse health effects.

The use of respirators, goggles and gloves is advised on many of the MSDSs for products on this list. This indicates serious, acute toxicity problems that are not being addressed in the recovery process when the chemicals come back to the surface. It also raises concern over possible hazards posed to those living in regions where gas production is taking place.

TEDX COnarrative 9-11-08.pdf

Potable and arable water resources in the West are already marginal and especially vulnerable to contamination. Mountain watersheds that provide drinking and irrigation water for vast numbers of people downstream are at risk of contamination as a result of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) leasing of hundreds of thousands of acres of underground mineral and gas resources to energy developers. Just as there is no accounting for what happens to the millions of gallons of fluids used to drill and fracture each well, there is no accounting for the source of the water being taken to complete these processes, how much of the fluid is water, and where and in what condition it is returned to the watershed.

All meaningful environmental oversight and regulation of the natural gas production was removed by the executive branch and Congress in the 2005 Federal Energy Appropriations Bill. Without restraints from the Clean Water Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, Clean Air Act, and CERCLA, the gas industry is steamrolling over vast land segments in the West.

Exploitation is so rapid that in less than 6 months in one county, 10 new well pads were built on the banks of the Colorado River, the source of agricultural and drinking water for 25 million people downstream. Spacing has dropped from one well pad per 240 acres to one per 10 acres. From the air it appears as a spreading, cancer-like network of dirt roads over vast acreage, contributing to desertification.

Charts of health effects of chemicals

Drill for Natural Gas, Pollute Water

November 17, 2008

Spurred by reports of water contamination in Colorado, Colborn painstakingly gathered the names of chemicals from shipping manifests that trucks must carry when they haul hazardous materials for oil and gas servicing companies. Whenever an accident occurred -- a well spill in Colorado, or an explosion at a drilling site in Wyoming -- she took water and soil samples and tested them for contaminants, adding the results to her list.

Industry officials say they use such tiny amounts of chemicals in the drilling -- of the million or so gallons of liquid pumped into a well, only a fraction of one percent are chemicals -- that they are diluted beyond harmful levels. But on some fracturing sites that tiny percentage translates to more than 10,000 gallons of chemicals, and Colborn believes even very low doses of some of the compounds can damage kidney and immune systems and affect reproductive development.

Among Colborn's list of nearly 300 chemicals -- some known to be cancer causing -- is a clear, odorless surfactant called 2-BE, used in foaming agents to lubricate the flow of fracking fluids down in the well. Colborn told Congress in 2007 that it can cause adrenal tumors.

In mid August the Colorado debate intensified when news broke that Cathy Behr, an emergency room nurse in Durango, CO, had almost died after treating a wildcatter who had been splashed in a fracking fluid spill at a BP natural gas rig. Behr stripped the man and stuffed his clothes into plastic bags while the hospital sounded alarms and locked down the ER. The worker was released. But a few days later Behr lay in critical condition facing multiple organ failure. Her doctors searched for details that could save their patient. The substance was a drill stimulation fluid called ZetaFlow, but the only information the rig workers provided was a vague Material Safety Data Sheet, a form required by OSHA. Doctors wanted to know precisely what chemicals make up ZetaFlow and in what concentration. But the MSDS listed that information as proprietary. Behr¹s doctor learned, weeks later, after Behr had begun to recuperate, what ZetaFlow was made of, but he was sworn to secrecy by the chemical's manufacturer and couldn¹t even share the information with his patient.

A Toxic Spew?

Aug 19, 2008

Cathy Behr says she won't forget the smell that nearly killed her. An emergency-room nurse in Durango, Colo.'s Mercy Regional Medical Center, Behr was working the April 17 day shift when Clinton Marshall arrived complaining of nausea and headaches. An employee at an energy-services company, Weatherford International, Marshall, according to Behr, said that he was caught in a "fracturing-fluid" spill. The chemical stench coming off Marshall's boots was buckling, says Behr. Mercy officials took no chances. They evacuated and locked down the ER, and its staff was instructed to don protective masks and gowns. But by the time those precautions were enacted, Behr had been nursing Marshall for 10 minutes--unprotected. "I honestly thought the response was a little overkill, but good practice," says Behr, 54, a 20-year veteran at Mercy.

A few days later, Behr's skin turned yellow. She began vomiting and retaining fluid. Her husband rushed her to Mercy where Behr was admitted to the ICU with a swollen liver, erratic blood counts and lungs filling with fluid. "I couldn't breath," she recalls. "I was drowning from the inside out." The diagnosis: chemical poisoning.

How often workers and communities are exposed to fracturing fluids, and the chemicals in them, is unknown. One study by Lachelt's OGAP reported Colorado had about 1,500 reported spills of various types, including fracturing fluids, in five years. But, as the Behr case demonstrates, some fracturing fluid spills and worker contamination may be falling through regulatory cracks. While numerous government guidelines require contaminate spills and worker injuries be reported, NEWSWEEK has learned that not a single incident report was filed with any government agency by Weatherford or BP documenting the April 17 spill, nor may either company have been required to do so.

For state health officials, the chemical exemptions, regulatory loopholes and missing data are a concerning mix. "We are just working in the dark," says Dr. Martha Rudolph, director of environmental programs for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. "We don't know the impact on the potential health on humans might be. We need to." La Plata Commissioner White is more succinct: "I think this is a travesty," he says. "Somebody has dropped the ball."

Meanwhile, Behr returned to work at Mercy Hospital only last month. State and federal regulators, hospital officials and Behr have yet to learn what chemicals made her so ill. She says she worries about the long-term effects of her exposure, but harbors no ill-feelings toward the industry, noting the jobs and economic benefit it has brought to her area. "I always thought that the industry probably took chances," she says. "But I always thought someone was watching them. I really did think that."

It is common to use diesel in hydraulic fracturing fluids. This should be avoided, since diesel contains the carcinogen benzene, as well as other harmful chemicals such as naphthalene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene. According to the company Halliburton, "Diesel does not enhance the efficiency of the fracturing fluid; it is merely a component of the delivery system."

It is technologically feasible to replace diesel with non-toxic "delivery systems," such as plain water. According to the EPA, "Water-based alternatives exist and from an environmental perspective, these water-based products are preferable."


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