The recent U.S. oil and gas boom has transformed hundreds of communities across the country—from rural areas and small towns to suburbs and cities—into industrial production zones. Oil and gas companies are using unconventional techniques such as hydraulic fracturing—known known as "fracking"—to extract deposits wherever they can be reached, even if those places are in the backyards of homes, near schools or places of worship, or on farmland. Oil and gas production uses hundreds of toxic chemicals that are emitted directly or escape into the air, exposing residents, workers and animals.
In 2012, twelve community groups in 6 states (Arkansas, Colorado, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wyoming), with support from a team of national organizations and experts, decided to test the air near oil and gas development sites located in their communities.
A new report from Coming Clean and Global Community Monitor, titled Warning Signs: Toxic Air Pollution Identified at Oil and Gas Sites, provides results from community air monitoring in those states near oil and gas development sites, including where hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” activities or waste disposal are taking place. Results show a wide range of hazardous chemicals are present in the air at levels above federal health and safety standards. In some cases, monitors revealed concentrations of hazardous chemicals high enough to pose an immediate health threat to people.
Community members were trained to collect air samples using equipment and methods certified by federal agencies. They collected air samples when they personally observed activity at the sites or when they suffered symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, or breathing problems.
Although the monitoring data does not conclusively prove a link between specific chemicals and the health symptoms reported by community residents, the stark findings are enough to warrant a precautionary approach to regulation of oil and gas activities. We must act on these warning signs to place greater emphasis on avoiding health hazards for all people living and working in drilling and production areas.
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