Fracking may affect air quality and human health

Fracking may affect air quality and human health
Blair Paulik, graduate student in environmental chemistry at Oregon State University, checks on an air-pollution sampler in Carroll County, Ohio. Credit: Kevin Hobbie, courtesy of Oregon State University

People living or working near active natural gas wells may be exposed to certain pollutants at higher levels than the Environmental Protection Agency considers safe for lifetime exposure, according to scientists from Oregon State University and the University of Cincinnati.

The researchers found that - a technique for releasing from below-ground rock formations - emits pollutants known as PAHs (), including some that are linked with increased risk of cancer and respiratory ailments.

"Air pollution from fracking operations may pose an under-recognized health hazard to people living near them," said the study's coauthor Kim Anderson, an environmental chemist with OSU's College of Agricultural Sciences.

The study, which appears in the journal Environmental Science & Technology's online edition, is part of a larger project co-led by the University of Cincinnati's Erin Haynes, OSU's Anderson, her graduate student Blair Paulik and Laurel Kincl, director of OSU's Environmental Health Science Center.

Anderson and her colleagues collected air samples from sites near active natural gas wells in Carroll County, Ohio, over a three-week period last February. Carroll County sits on top of the Utica formation, a deep oil- and gas-rich reef of subterranean shale. The rural county is a hotspot of natural gas prospecting, with more than one active well site per square mile.

The study got its start when a group of citizens approached Haynes, who is a public health expert, wanting to know more about health risks from natural gas extraction.

Haynes got in touch with Anderson and Kincl, and together they designed the study to include citizen participation. They placed air samplers on the properties of 23 volunteers living or working at sites ranging from right next to a gas well to a little more than three miles away.

The samplers are aluminum T-shaped boxes containing specially treated polyethylene ribbons that absorb contaminants in a similar manner to biological cells. Volunteers were trained in proper handling of samplers and documenting of data.

After the study period, the volunteers packaged the samplers in airtight bags, labeled them and mailed them back to Anderson's lab at OSU.

The samplers picked up high levels of PAHs across the study area. Levels were highest closest to the wells and decreased by about 30 percent with distance.

Even the lowest levels - detected on sites more than a mile away from a well - were higher than previous researchers had found in downtown Chicago and near a Belgian oil refinery. They were about 10 times higher than in a rural Michigan area with no natural gas wells.

By looking at the ratios of individual PAHs detected by the samplers, Anderson and her team were able to discern whether they came directly from the earth - a "petrogenic" source - or from "pyrogenic" sources like the burning of fossil fuels. The proportion of petrogenic PAHs in the mix was highest nearer the wells and decreased with distance.

The team also accounted for the influences of wood smoke and vehicle exhaust, common sources of airborne pyrogenic PAHs. Wood smoke was consistent across the sampling area, supporting the conclusion that the gas wells were contributing to the higher PAH levels.

The researchers then used a standard calculation to determine the additional cancer risk posed by airborne contaminants over a range of scenarios. For the worst-case scenario (exposure 24 hours a day over 25 years), they found that a person anywhere in the study area would be exposed at a risk level exceeding the threshold of what the EPA deems acceptable.

The highest-risk areas were those nearest the wells, Anderson said. Areas more than a mile away posed about 30 percent less risk.

Anderson cautioned that these numbers are worst-case estimates and can't predict the risk to any particular individual. "Actual risk would depend heavily on exposure time, exposure frequency and proximity to a natural gas well," she said.

"We made these calculations to put our findings in context with other, similar risk assessments and to compare the levels we found with the EPA's acceptable risk level."

The study has other caveats, Anderson said, the main one being the small number of non-random samples used. In addition, findings aren't necessarily applicable to other gas-producing areas, because PAH emissions are influenced by extraction techniques and by underlying geology.


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More information: Environmental Science & Technology, pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/es506095e
Citation: Fracking may affect air quality and human health (2015, May 13) retrieved 25 June 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2015-05-fracking-affect-air-quality-human.html
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May 13, 2015
Making others sick and perhaps shortening their lives is just an "externality" to those making money doing it.

You whiners just do not appreciate Capitalism, and what it does for, . . . whom?

May 13, 2015
Why did you get 1/5 stars for that comment by two people??? Perhaps they think you're serious? (I hope you're not!)

May 14, 2015
I am shadowed by a few cranks who make sure to follow me around awarding me ones, no matter the topic or opinion. It is an adolescent grudge thing.

May 14, 2015
I am shadowed by a few cranks who make sure to follow me around awarding me ones, no matter the topic or opinion. It is an adolescent grudge thing
No, you consistently post thoughtless posts full of mindless sloganeering and unsubstantiated rubbish. And you fabricate info out of thin air, such as when you insisted that RF from orbital solar power stations would cause cataracts.

You have no respect for facts or the people here which is why you call everybody who questions your garbage 'goobers' and cranks.

This is why you are down rated.

May 14, 2015
See? As I said previously, it is an adolescent grudge-type thing with the vandals.

May 14, 2015
See? As I said previously, it is an adolescent grudge-type thing with the vandals.
See? A vandal is someone who posts graffiti such as RF from orbital solar power stations would cause cataracts, leaving us concerned citizens to clean it up.

You cant call the victims of graffiti vandals george. People here need to be aware of the mess you have caused.

May 14, 2015
OMG. How long do we have to put up with the adolescents challenging the grownups?

Go here, Toots:
http://www.survey...ct?cc=y=

May 14, 2015
OMG. How long do we have to put up with the adolescents challenging the grownups?

Go here, Toots:
http://www.survey...ct?cc=y=
Just caught you making up bullshit again in this thread
http://phys.org/n...rgy.html

-Adolescents think they can make up shit and not get caught. But youre certainly not an adolescent are you? Whats your excuse?

May 14, 2015
That has been refuted already. Go read it. Once again, you got taken by the incompleteness of Wiki.

Did you go read the Ophthalmology study and report? Was I right, . . again?

You can admit it, . . . can't you?

May 14, 2015
That has been refuted already. Go read it. Once again, you got taken by the incompleteness of Wiki
That excerpt wasnt from wiki you moron. Why are you debating it here in a thread about fracking??

I did find in the first few sentences of your abstract:

"The formation of cataracts seems to be related directly to the power of the microwave and the duration of exposure"

-which ties in to the study I posted, which says that RF from these stations will be FAR BELOW the level shown to cause the type of heating which causes cataracts.

So youve been caught lying again. And exposing what little you know about things youre claim to be 'experienced' with.

You can admit it, . . . can't you?

May 14, 2015
Okay, otto go live under that beam, and show us it is good for us, with that "duration of exposure".

May 14, 2015
Okay, otto go live under that beam, and show us it is good for us, with that "duration of exposure".
So this is your defense for posting a worthless reference that you did not read?

Youve been caught lying again. And exposing what little you know about things youre claim to be 'experienced' with.

May 14, 2015
Nope. No experience living under a radar beam. I got sufficient RF from military communications, thanks.

How about you? It may explain some things.

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