A new report issued by Global Community Monitor, GASSED! Citizen Investigation of Toxic Air Pollution from Natural Gas Development, details the air sampling results, environmental and public health threats with living amid the natural gas boom. During 2010-11, Global Community Monitor (GCM), responding to citizen odor and health complaints, launched a Bucket Brigade in northwest New Mexico, southwest Colorado and western Colorado to document and measure air pollution from natural gas facilities. Through the course of this pilot study, residents, armed with their own air monitors, documented a potent mix of chemicals in nine air samples from different locations, many of them located near homes, playgrounds, schools and community centers.
The lab detected a total of 22 toxic chemicals in the air samples, including four known carcinogens, as well as toxins known to damage the nervous system and respiratory irritants. The chemicals detected ranged from 3 to 3,000 times higher than what is considered safe by state and federal agencies.
These air samples confirm the observations, experiences and first-hand complaints of residents.
Odors and health effects that have been reported for years were consistent with exposure to the
chemicals found in the samples. These results underscore the need of regulatory agencies to take such complaints seriously, given the close proximity between the industry and its residential
One of the biggest underlying problems here is that oil and gas exploration and production operations are exempt from two key provisions of the Clean Air Act’s National Emissions Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants, designed to protect public health. Because of these exemptions, the industry avoids complying with standards that are applied to other industries.
This leaves the citizen’s right-to-know, virtually non-existent. Air emissions from natural gas production are largely unregulated and unmonitored, despite being a significant source of air pollution. State and Federal air monitoring devices are located several miles from production sites, and test for criteria air pollutants rather than specific volatile organic compounds associated with natural gas exploration and production. Without registration of the chemicals by industry, neighbors of gas wells have no way of knowing what chemicals are stored on site, used during the industrial processes, vented to the air, water or land, or disposed nearby.
However, there are ways to minimize the health risks and limit community exposure. The loopholes in the Clean Air Act and Safe Drinking Water Act need to be closed and the natural gas industry needs to be regulated like all other industry. But the reality of this problem, is that homes, schools, playgrounds and community centers are just too close for comfort. The report cites the need for a minimum of a quarter mile ‘buffer zone’ between industry and residents. This has worked successfully in Tulare County, California as well as St. Charles Parish, Louisiana.