A study conducted throughout five states in the U.S. points to unconventional oil and gas production releasing air pollutants that far exceed Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recommended levels.
Throughout the states of Wyoming, Arkansas, Pennsylvania, Colorado and Ohio, 35 air samples were taken at specific oil and gas production sites during increased industrial activity or when workers were feeling negative health symptoms such as headache, nausea or dizziness.
According to the report, which was published in the open access journal Environmental Health, researchers “explored air quality at a previously neglected scale: near a range of unconventional oil and gas development and production sites that are the focus of community concern. Residents conducted sampling in response to operational conditions, odor events, and a history of the onset of acute symptoms.”
The three pollutants that were most commonly found to exceed recommended levels were benzene, hydrogen sulfide and formaldehyde, which are linked to increased risk of diseases.
Benzene exposure has not only been linked to blood cancers such as leukemia and blood disorders such as anemia, but also lymphoma.
The air samples in which benzene exceeded recommended levels were found to be anywhere from 35 to 770,000 times higher than samples taken during decreased industrial activity. Researchers likened the benzene exposure in five minutes at one site in Wyoming as equivalent to spending eight and a half months in Beijing.
Air quality at these locations are considered to be an “unexplored human health concern” because studies are normally focused on contamination of ground and surface water.
“Community-based monitoring near unconventional oil and gas operations has found dangerous elevations in concentration of hazardous air pollutants under a range of circumstances,” according to the report. “In this study we have shown that community-based research can improve air-quality data while adhering to established methods. Our findings can be used to inform and calibrate state monitoring and research programs.”