Doctor shares fracking air quality concerns PDF Print E-mail
Written by DAVID DUPONT Sentinel Staff Writer   
Wednesday, 11 September 2013 10:14
Dr. Deborah Cowden wasn't thinking about hydraulic fracturing until the gas industry reached out to her and her husband.
They have a rural spread in north central Ohio they want to develop as an organic farm. They received a letter inquiring if they were interested in leasing their property. They weren't interested, so they tossed the letter in the trash.
But a neighboring farmer called and said they really should look at it. This was something they needed to study.
And as a doctor, what Cowden learned "scandalized" her. It made her an activist, who was struck then when she testified at legislative hearings, she was the only doctor there, the only one representing "people."
What she found out was why she was in Bowling Green Tuesday night speaking to about 30 people at Grounds for Thought about the dangers of fracking, and why people should support the charter amendment aimed at banning the industrial process in Bowling Green.
Fracking, she said, "is an assault on air quality, the more you find out, you find it is an assault in every offensive use of the word."
That starts with the silica dust kicked up on the industrial sites. It gets trapped in the lungs, damaging them.
Then there's volatile organic chemicals that are released throughout the process, from pipelines, waste pits and compressor stations, and the rogue gas that escapes during the process. Those gases are not visible, nor can they be smelled.
But when she showed a photo of a condensate tank, where hydrocarbon by-products of the process are stored, it shows fumes billowing from it. Those fumes contain a variety of chemicals.
A study from researchers from the University of Colorado detected concentrations of these chemicals 130 to 500 feet from well pads. Wells can be drilled closer than that to homes.
In 163 samples some chemicals appeared in 100 percent, a striking result, the doctor said. The level of chemicals found in rural areas was as high or higher than in urban industrial centers.
She spoke about two chemicals in particular, benzene and xylene.
Benzene is known to damage white blood cells, causing anemia, leukemia, lymphoma and other disorders. It disrupts the immune system, Cowden said.
Xylene harms the neurological system and irritates the eyes, nose and throat.
The standards for exposure, Cowden said, are established for those working in the industry. They may work 40 hours a week, and then leave the site so their bodies have a chance to recover from the exposure.
Even at that, she said, when she treated oil field workers, they all looked 15 years older than their actual age, which she attributed to their exposure.
But those who live in the vicinity of gas drilling operations are there all the time, without a break from exposure.
Also, the studies are done for exposure to four chemicals at most. But the Colorado study, "Human Health Risk Assessment of Air Emissions from Development of Unconventional Energy Sources" published in the Science of the Total Environment, looked at 78 chemicals coming from the well pads.
No one knows what the effect of exposure to so many chemicals is. She likened it to the harmful interactions from taking multiple medications.
The dangers would be multiplied, she said, with drilling operations located in the more densely populated areas such as Ohio.
Shawn Bennett, a field director for Energy in Depth, the outreach arm of the Independent Petroleum Association of America, said that Cowden is misrepresenting the study.
Though 163 samples were taken, he said, actually only 24 are usable. Some sample sites, he said, were within two miles of I-75.
Also the study lacks baseline testing, he said.
Condensate tanks, he said, are subject to EPA air quality rules.
Bennett, who has worked in communications in the energy field for a decade, said though Cowden is a doctor, she is not knowledgeable about the oil and gas industry.
Tuesday night Cowden said that the doctor's mantra "do no harm" should be heeded.
Hydraulic fracturing should not proceed, she said, until the industry can find a way to mitigate the ill effects it causes.

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