New health research about the risks of living near oil and gas operations in western Colorado

I’ve blogged in the past about the need for better research when it comes to the human health impacts of oil and gas operations, the desires of local communities to have more information, and our support for an analytical tool called Health Impact Assessment.

Three new health studies have recently been issued regarding the health risks in Garfield County in western Colorado. We applaud the local government support for these studies.

In June, 2010, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) issued a report on air toxics inhalation and human health risk assessment in Garfield County. A 2007 CDPHE health risk assessment of air toxics data suggested potential cancer and non-cancer health effects of benzene in the area due to oil and gas development, so Garfield County ramped up its air quality monitoring in 2008 and asked CDPHE for a new assessment. I can’t find this report posted on the internet, so I don’t have a link, but if anyone wants a copy I am happy to send it.

CDPHE’s conclusions include:

  • estimated cumulative lifetime cancer risks are at or slightly above the high end of EPA’s acceptable cancer risk range of 1 to 100 excess cancers in a million;
  • the estimated risks indicate an increased risk of developing cancer during a lifetime and, while these increased risks are low to moderate, they are likely to be underestimated due to lack of data;
  • there is an increased risk of developing non-cancer health effects (e.g., respiratory, immunological, and nervous system effects) and, while this increased risk is low, it is likely to be underestimated due to lack of data; and 
  • because this is a snapshot in time that assesses risk from only a select group of substances, there is a need for continued long-term air monitoring and increased frequency of sampling.

More recently, in September, the Colorado School of Public Health at the University of Colorado issued a Draft Health Impact Assessment (HIA) for Battlement Mesa, a community in Garfield County where new natural gas drilling is planned. The authors also issued a Human Health Risk Assessment. Public comments on the Draft are being accepted until October 20, 2010. The HIA is quite thorough, so I will just include some of the conclusions here:

  • air quality is likely to change, and health impacts may include respiratory disease, neurological problems, and possible increased cancer risk.
  • increased traffic is likely to cause negative health impacts;
  • there is a high estimated Hazard Index for acute non-cancer hazard of residents living adjacent to a well pad;
  • the estimated cancer risk is within EPA’s acceptable range but exceeds EPA’s goal and is at the high end of the acceptable range.