(Editor’s note 7/16/2016: This study has been withdrawn.) A peer-reviewed study published by scientists from Oregon State University and the University of Cincinnati in the journal Environmental Science & Technology reveals that emissions generated by fracking operations may be exposing people to toxic pollutants at levels many times higher than the EPA considers safe for lifetime exposure.
The researchers analyzed air samples from Carroll County, which has more permitted oil and gas wells (480) than any other Ohio county. They found that hydraulic fracturing emits pollutants known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), some of which are linked to increased risk of cancer and repiratory ailments.
Based on their data, the researchers calculated the cancer risk from airborne contaminants. For the worst-case scenario, exposure 24 hours a day over 25 years, they found that people living anywhere in the study area would be exposed to toxic pollutants at levels exceeding the threshold that the EPA considers safe.
The study was initiated after local residents contacted Erin Haynes, a public health expert at the University of Cincinnati, wanting to know about the health risks posed by the gas wells near them. The research involved citizen volunteers, who collected the air samples.
The analysis found the highest levels of PAHs nearest to the wells and decreased with distance. However, even at the lowest levels, which were detected at sites more than a mile away from a well, the samples revealed higher levels of PAHs than previous research had found in downtown Chicago or near a Belgian oil refinery. The lowest levels found in the study were about 10 times higher than in a rural Michigan area with no gas wells.
For those seeking a “smoking gun” that links fracking to these air pollution and health risks, keep in mind that this study doesn’t definitely show that fracking is the cause of the toxic air measured in Ohio. But, added to the other compelling evidence of the health risks of oil and gas drilling, it is reason to build regulatory precautions that will protect citizens from harm.
A database of 47 peer reviewed studies on the impact of oil and gas drilling on air quality
A compilation of studies on the impact of oil and gas drilling on air pollution from the Concerned Health Professionals of New York (see page 11)
A personal story of how drilling impacted the life of a Carroll Country, Ohio resident: A personal story: Kip Gardner, Carroll County, Ohio
Another example of the use of volunteer data collection to determine the health risks of oil and gas drilling: More new evidence of public health risk at drilling sites all over the United States
The precautionary principle and the science behind the New York fracking ban, a look at why studies like the one in Carroll County, Ohio are reason enough to stop or slow down fracking until we can clearly determine the dangers of oil and gas drilling