The results of an independent study conducted by a group of environmental scientists who tested air pollution in several areas throughout the Houston, Texas, area uncovered some disturbing results for some residents who live in the vicinity of oil pipelines.
Scientists with the Houston Advanced Research Center (HARC) expected to find benzene and other toxic substances in the air in Houston neighborhoods near oil refineries and other industrial complexes along the Houston Ship Channel, and they did. Pollution there has been documented for years.
But the researchers also found high levels of benzene in the air in neighborhoods near oil and gas pipelines. According to Houston Press, the data shows a clear correlation between benzene spikes and the presence of pipelines, indicating that the pipelines sporadically emit benzene into the air.
Benzene is a chemical compound that is highly toxic to the human body, even in short-term exposures. The substance impairs the cells ability to function properly, which in turn hinders bone marrow from producing enough red blood cells, resulting in anemia. The body’s immune system can also be damaged by the changing levels of blood-borne antibodies and abnormally low levels of white blood cells.
Symptoms of benzene exposure can include dizziness, confusion, racing heart, headaches, tremors, and other effects. In addition to anemia, benzene exposures over longer periods of time can cause leukemia and other cancers. Irregular menstrual periods in women are another symptom of more chronic exposures.
According to Houston Press, the “unpredictable emissions” from Houston’s pipelines were “releasing benzene into the air at levels that were much higher than reported in the same areas in the 2011 National Emissions Inventory, the Environmental Protection Agency’s air pollution inventory system that is built using data collected from state and local agencies.”
So, while the National Emissions Inventory numbers indicate the benzene problem isn’t so bad, relatively speaking, the Houston Advanced Research Center study shows that benzene rates in some neighborhoods are near the dangerous level for short-term exposure and “way over limits for long-term exposure,” Houston Press reported.
Lead HARC study researcher Eduardo Olaguer told Houston Public Media that the worrisome findings should serve as a “wake-up call” to government regulators because they indicate its current air pollution tracking methods need improvement.