Public Health

Field Survey of Health Perception and Complaints of Pennsylvania Residents in the Marcellus Shale Region

Documentation, Peer Reviewed, Public Health

Abstract

Pennsylvania Marcellus Shale region residents have reported medical symptoms they believe are related to nearby Unconventional Natural Gas Development (UNGD). Associations between medical symptoms and UNGD have been minimally explored. The objective of this descriptive study is to explore whether shale region Pennsylvania residents perceive UNGD as a health concern and whether they attribute health symptoms to UNGD exposures. A questionnaire was administered to adult volunteers with medical complaints in a primary-care medical office in a county where UNGD was present. Participants were asked whether they were concerned about health effects from UNGD, and whether they attributed current symptoms to UNGD or to some other environmental exposure. There were 72 respondents; 22% perceived UNGD as a health concern and 13% attributed medical symptoms to UNGD exposures. Overall, 42% attributed one or more of their medical symptoms to environmental causes, of which UNGD was the most frequent. A medical record review conducted on six participants who attributed their medical symptoms to UNGD revealed that only one of these records documented both the symptoms in question and the attribution to UNGD. The results of this pilot study suggest that there is substantial concern about adverse health effects of UNGD among Pennsylvania Marcellus Shale residents, and that these concerns may not be adequately represented in medical records. Further efforts to determine the relationship between UNGD and health are recommended in order to address community concerns.

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Environmental Public Health Dimensions of Shale and Tight Gas Development

Documentation, Peer Reviewed, Public Health

Abstract

Background: The United States has experienced a boom in natural gas production due to recent technological innovations that have enabled this resource to be produced from shale formations.

Objectives: This review discusses the body of evidence that focuses on exposure pathways to evaluate the potential environmental public health impacts of shale gas development. It highlights what is currently known and identifies data gaps and research limitations by addressing matters of toxicity, exposure pathways, air quality, and water quality.

Discussion: There is evidence of potential environmental public health risks associated with shale gas development. A number of studies suggest that shale gas development contributes to levels of ambient air concentrations known to be associated with increased risk of morbidity and mortality. Similarly, an increasing body of studies suggest water contamination risks exist through a variety of environmental pathways, most notably during wastewater transport and disposal and via poor zonal isolation of gases and fluids due to structural integrity impairment of cement in gas wells.

Conclusion: Despite a growing body of evidence, a number of data gaps persist. Most importantly, there is a need for more epidemiological studies to assess associations between risk factors, such as air and water pollution and health outcomes among populations living in close proximity to shale gas operations.

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Planning For Fracking on the Barnett Shale: Urban Air Pollution, Improving Health Based Regulation, and the Role of Local Governments

Air Pollution, Peer Reviewed, Public Health, Uncategorized

Abstract

In the last decade hydraulic fracturing for natural gas has exploded on the Barnett Shale in Texas. The region is now home to the most intensive hydraulic fracking and gas production activities ever undertaken in densely urbanized areas. Faced with minimal state and federal regulation, Texas cities are on the front line in the effort to figure out how best to balance industry, land use, and environmental concerns. Local governments in Texas, however, do not currently have the regulatory authority, capacity, or the information required to close the regulatory gap. Using the community experience on the Barnett Shale as a case study, this article focuses on the legal and regulatory framework governing air emissions and proposes changes to the current regulatory structure.

Under both the state and federal programs, the regulation of hazardous air emissions from gas operations is based largely on questions of cost and available technology. There is no comprehensive cumulative risk assessment to consider the potential impact to public health in urban areas. Drilling operations are being conducted in residential areas. Residents living in close proximity to gas operations on the Barnett Shale have voiced serious concerns for their health, which have yet to be comprehensively evaluated. Given the complexity of the science, and the dearth of clear, transparent, and enforceable standards, inadequate studies and limited statistical analysis have been allowed to provide potentially false assurances. The politically expedient bottom line dominates with little attention paid to the quality of the science or the adequacy of the standards.

Determining and applying comprehensive health-based standards for hazardous air pollutants has been largely abandoned at the federal level given uncertainties in the science, difficulties of determining and measuring “safe” levels of toxic pollutants, and the potential for economic disruption. Neither the state nor the federal government has set enforceable ambient standards for hazardous air pollutants. Identifying cumulative air pollution problems that may occur in urban areas, the State of California has called upon local governments to identify “hot spots” and to consider air quality issues in their planning and zoning actions. In Texas, however, preemption discussions dominate the analysis. Any local government regulation that might provide protection from toxic air emissions otherwise regulated by the State must be justified by some other public purpose.

Texas should consider authorizing and encouraging local level air quality planning for industrial activities, similar to what California has done. Care should be taken to separate these facilities from sensitive receptors and “hot spots” that may already be burdened with excessive hazardous air emissions. Given the difficulty of the task, there is also an important role for the state and federal governments in working to establish ambient standards for hazardous air pollutants, as well as standards for health based assessment and public communication. The uncertainty inherent in any of these standards should be made clear and accessible to local governments so that it may be considered in making appropriate and protective land use decisions. Texas should consider allowing local governments to have the power to establish ambient air quality standards, emissions limitations, monitoring, reporting, and offsets for hazardous air pollutants, following the model applied to conventional air pollutants pursuant to the federal program.

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Potential Public Health Hazards, Exposures and Health Effects from Unconventional Natural Gas Development

Peer Reviewed, Public Health

Abstract

The rapid increase in unconventional natural gas (UNG) development in the United States during the past decade has brought wells and related infrastructure closer to population centers. This review evaluates risks to public health from chemical and nonchemical stressors associated with UNG, describes likely exposure pathways and potential health effects, and identifies major uncertainties to address with future research. The most important occupational stressors include mortality, exposure to hazardous materials and increased risk of industrial accidents. For communities near development and production sites the major stressors are air pollutants, ground and surface water contamination, truck traffic and noise pollution, accidents and malfunctions, and psychosocial stress associated with community change. Despite broad public concern, no comprehensive population-based studies of the public health effects of UNG operations exist. Major uncertainties are the unknown frequency and duration of human exposure, future extent of development, potential emission control and mitigation strategies, and a paucity of baseline data to enable substantive before and after comparisons for affected populations and environmental media. Overall, the current literature suggests that research needs to address these uncertainties before we can reasonably quantify the likelihood of occurrence or magnitude of adverse health effects associated with UNG production in workers and communities.

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Birth Outcomes and Maternal Residential Proximity to Natural Gas Development in Rural Colorado

Children's Health, Peer Reviewed, Public Health

Abstract

Background: Birth defects are a leading cause of neonatal mortality. Natural gas development (NGD) emits several potential teratogens and US production is expanding.

Objectives: We examined associations between maternal residential proximity to NGD and birth outcomes in a retrospective cohort study of 124,842 births between 1996 and 2009 in rural Colorado.

Methods: We calculated inverse distance weighted natural gas well counts within a 10-mile radius of maternal residence to estimate maternal exposure to NGD. Logistic regression, adjusted for maternal and infant covariates, was used to estimate associations with exposure tertiles for congenital heart defects (CHDs), neural tube defects (NTDs), oral clefts, preterm birth, and term low birth weight. The Association with term birth weight was investigated using multiple linear regression.

Results: Prevalence of CHDs increased with exposure tertile, with an odds ratio (OR) of 1.3 for the highest tertile (95% CI: 1.2, 1.5) and NTD prevalence was associated with the highest tertile of exposure (OR = 2.0, 95% CI: 1.0, 3.9, based on 59 cases), compared to no gas wells within a 10-mile radius. Exposure was negatively associated with preterm birth and positively associated with fetal growth, though the magnitude of association was small. No association was found between exposure and oral clefts.

Conclusions: In this large cohort, we observed an association between density and proximity of natural gas wells within a 10-mile radius of maternal residence and prevalence of CHDs and possibly NTDs. Greater specificity in exposure estimates are needed to further explore these associations.

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Estrogen and Androgen Receptor Activities of Hydraulic Fracturing Chemicals and Surface and Ground Water in a Drilling-Dense Region

Peer Reviewed, Public Health

Abstract

The rapid rise in natural gas extraction utilizing hydraulic fracturing increases the potential for contamination of surface and ground water from chemicals used throughout the process. Hundreds of products containing more than 750 chemicals and components are potentially used throughout the extraction process, including over one hundred known or suspected endocrine disrupting chemicals. We hypothesized that a selected subset of chemicals used in natural gas drilling operations and also surface and ground water samples collected in a drilling-dense region of Garfield County, CO would exhibit estrogen and androgen receptor activities. Water samples were collected, solid-phase extracted, and measured for estrogen and androgen receptor activities using reporter gene assays in human cell lines. Of the 39 unique water samples, 89%, 41%, 12%, and 46% exhibited estrogenic, anti-estrogenic, androgenic, and anti-androgenic activities, respectively. Testing of a subset of natural gas drilling chemicals revealed novel anti-estrogenic, novel anti-androgenic, and limited estrogenic activities. The Colorado River, the drainage basin for this region, exhibited moderate levels of estrogenic, anti-estrogenic, and anti-androgenic activities, suggesting that higher localized activity at sites with known natural gas related spills surrounding the river might be contributing to the multiple receptor activities observed in this water source. The majority of water samples collected from sites in a drilling-dense region of Colorado exhibited more estrogenic, anti-estrogenic, or anti-androgenic activities than reference sites with limited nearby drilling operations. Our data suggest that natural gas drilling operations may result in elevated EDC activity in surface and ground water.

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The role of ethics in shale gas policies

Peer Reviewed, Public Health

Abstract

The United States has experienced a boom in natural gas production due to recent technological innovations that have enabled natural gas to be produced from unconventional sources, such as shale. There has been much discussion about the costs and benefits of developing shale gas among scientists, policy makers, and the general public. The debate has typically revolved around potential gains in economics, employment, energy independence, and national security as well as potential harms to the environment, the climate, and public health. In the face of scientific uncertainty, national and international governments must make decisions on how to proceed. So far, the results have been varied, with some governments banning the process, others enacting moratoria until it is better understood, and others explicitly sanctioning shale gas development. These policies reflect legislature’s preferences to avoid false negative errors or false positive ones. Here we argue that policy makers have a prima facie duty to minimize false negatives based on three considerations: (1) protection from serious harm generally takes precedence over the enhancement of welfare; (2) minimizing false negatives in this case is more respectful to people’s autonomy; and (3) alternative solutions exist that may provide many of the same benefits while minimizing many of the harms.

Air quality in the Industrial Heartland of Alberta, Canada and potential impacts on human health

Air Pollution, Peer Reviewed, Public Health

Abstract

The “Industrial Heartland” of Alberta is Canada’s largest hydrocarbon processing center, with more than 40 major chemical, petrochemical, and oil and gas facilities. Emissions from these industries affect local signair quality and human health. This paper characterizes ambient levels of 77 volatile organic compounds sign(VOCs) in the region using high-precision measurements collected in summer 2010. Remarkably strong enhancements of 43 VOCs were detected, and concentrations in the industrial plumes were often similar to or even higher than levels measured in some of the world’s largest cities and industrial regions. For example maximum levels of propene and i-pentane exceeded 100 ppbv, and 1,3-butadiene, a known carcinogen, reached 27 ppbv. Major VOC sources included propene fractionation, diluent separation and bitumen processing. Emissions of the measured VOCs increased the hydroxyl radical reactivity (kOH), a measure of the potential to form downwind ozone, from 3.4 s–1 in background air to 62 s–1 in the most concentrated plumes. The plume value was comparable to polluted megacity values, and acetaldehyde, propene and 1,3-butadiene contributed over half of the plume kOH. Based on a 13-year record (1994 e2006) at the county level, the incidence of male hematopoietic cancers (leukemia and non-Hodgkin lymphoma) was higher in communities closest to the Industrial Heartland compared to neighboring counties. While a causal association between these cancers and exposure to industrial emissions cannot be confirmed, this pattern and the elevated VOC levels warrant actions to reduce emissions of known carcinogens, including benzene and 1,3-butadiene.

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Challenges of Unconventional Shale Gas Development: So What’s the Rush?

Peer Reviewed, Public Health

Abstract

The article discusses unconventional shale gas development (UGD) as of July 2013, focusing on U.S. natural gas production and the impact of UGD on energy utilization in America. Funding by the U.S. Department of Energy for shale gas extraction research and development is mentioned, along with water pollution and the direct health and environmental risks associated with toxicology and safety issues. Several American statutes are mentioned, including the Toxic Substances Control Act.

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Differing Opinions about Natural Gas Drilling in Two Adjacent Counties with Different Levels of Drilling Activity

Peer Reviewed, Public Health

Abstract

The pace of development of shale gas plays varies greatly among US states and globally. Through analysis of telephone survey responses, we explore support for natural gas drilling in residents of Washington County (WC), PA (n=502) vs. residents of Allegheny County (AC), PA (n=799). WC has had intense Marcellus Shale (MS) drilling activity, in comparison to adjacent AC, which has had little drilling activity. WC residents are marginally more supportive of MS drilling than are AC residents (p=0.0768). Residents of WC are more likely to perceive MS as an economic opportunity than are AC residents (p=0.0015); to be in a family that has signed a MS lease (p<0.0001); to follow the MS issue closely (p=0.0003); to get MS information from neighbors, friends, and relatives (p<0.0001); and are marginally less likely to perceive MS as an environmental threat (p=0.1090). WC leaseholders are significantly more supportive of MS drilling than WC non-leaseholders and AC non-leaseholders (p=0.0024). Mediation analyses show that county-based differences in support of MS drilling are due to WC residents seeing more of an economic opportunity in the MS and their greater likelihood of having a family-held lease.

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Assessment and longitudinal analysis of health impacts and stressors perceived to result from unconventional shale gas development in the Marcellus Shale region

Peer Reviewed, Public Health

Abstract

Introduction: Concerns for health and social impacts have arisen as a result of Marcellus Shale unconventional natural gas development. Our goal was to document the self-reported health impacts and mental and physical health stressors perceived to result from Marcellus Shale development.

Methods: Two sets of interviews were conducted with a convenience sample of community members living proximal to Marcellus Shale development, session 1 March‐September 2010 (n = 33) and session 2 January‐April 2012 (n = 20). Symptoms of health impacts and sources of psychological stress were coded. Symptom and stressor counts were quantified for each interview. The counts for each participant were compared longitudinally.

Results: Participants attributed 59 unique health impacts and 13 stressors to Marcellus Shale development. Stress was the most frequently-reported symptom. Over time, perceived health impacts increased (P = 0·042), while stressors remained constant (P = 0·855).

Discussion: Exposure-based epidemiological studies are needed to address identified health impacts and those that may develop as unconventional natural gas extraction continues. Many of the stressors can be addressed immediately.

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Exposure to Chemicals and Radiation During Childhood and Risk for Cancer Later in Life

Peer Reviewed, Public Health

Abstract

Purpose: Many chemical carcinogens are in food, water, air, household products, and personal care products. Although genetic susceptibility is an important factor in how an individual responds to exposure to a carcinogen, heritable genetic factors alone account for only a minor portion of cancer rates.

Methods: We review the evidence that early life exposure to carcinogenic chemicals and ionizing radiation results in elevations in cancer later in life.

Results: Because cells are rapidly dividing and organ systems are developing during childhood and adolescence, exposure to carcinogens during these early life stages is a major risk factor for cancer later in life. Because young people have many expected years of life, the clinical manifestations of cancers caused by carcinogens have more time in which to develop during characteristically long latency periods. Many chemical carcinogens persist in the body for decades and increase risk for all types of cancers. Carcinogens may act via mutagenic, nonmutagenic, or epigenetic mechanisms and may also result from disruption of endocrine systems. The problem is magnified by the fact that many chemical carcinogens have become an integral part of our food and water supply and are in air and the general environment.

Conclusions: The early life onset of a lifelong exposure to mixtures of multiple environmental chemical carcinogens and radiation contributes significantly to the etiology of cancer in later life.

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Missing from the table: role of the environmental public health community in governmental advisory commissions related to Marcellus Shale drilling.

Peer Reviewed, Public Health

Abstract

BACKGROUND: The Marcellus Shale is a vast natural gas field underlying parts of Pennsylvania, New York, West Virginia, Virginia, and Maryland. Rapid development of this field has been enabled by advances in hydrofracking techniques that include injection of chemical and physical agents deep underground. Response to public concern about potential adverse environmental and health impacts has led to the formation of state and national advisory committees.

OBJECTIVES: We review the extent to which advisory committees formed in 2011 by President Obama and governors of the states of Maryland and Pennsylvania contain individuals with expertise pertinent to human environmental public health. We also analyze the extent to which human health issues are of concern to the public by reviewing presentations at the public meeting of the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board (SEAB) Natural Gas Subcommittee formed by the U.S. President’s directive.Results: At a public hearing held by the SEAB Natural Gas Subcommittee 62.7% of those not in favor of drilling mentioned health issues. Although public health is specified to be a concern in the executive orders forming these three advisory committees, we could identify no individuals with health expertise among the 52 members of the Pennsylvania Governor’s Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission, the Maryland Marcellus Shale Safe Drilling Initiative Advisory Commission, or the SEAB Natural Gas Subcommittee.

CONCLUSIONS: Despite recognition of the environmental public health concerns related to drilling in the Marcellus Shale, neither state nor national advisory committees selected to respond to these concerns contained recognizable environmental public health expertise.

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Impacts of gas drilling on human and animal health

Peer Reviewed, Public Health

Abstract

Environmental concerns surrounding drilling for gas are intense due to expansion of shale gas drilling operations. Controversy surrounding the impact of drilling on air and water quality has pitted industry and lease-holders against individuals and groups concerned with environmental protection and public health. Because animals often are exposed continually to air, soil, and groundwater and have more frequent reproductive cycles, animals can be used as sentinels to monitor impacts to human health. This study involved interviews with animal owners who live near gas drilling operations. The findings illustrate which aspects of the drilling process may lead to health problems and suggest modifications that would lessen but not eliminate impacts. Complete evidence regarding health impacts of gas drilling cannot be obtained due to incomplete testing and disclosure of chemicals, and nondisclosure agreements. Without rigorous scientific studies, the gas drilling boom sweeping the world will remain an uncontrolled health experiment on an enormous scale.

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Blind Rush? Shale Gas Boom Proceeds Amid Human Health Questions

Peer Reviewed, Public Health

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The rush to drill for natural gas: a public health cautionary tale

Peer Reviewed, Public Health

Abstract

Efforts to identify alternative sources of energy have focused on extracting natural gas from vast shale deposits. The Marcellus Shale, located in western New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio, is estimated to contain enough natural gas to supply the United States for the next 45 years. New drilling technology-horizontal drilling and high-volume hydraulic fracturing of shale (fracking)-has made gas extraction much more economically feasible. However, this technique poses a threat to the environment and to the public’s health. There is evidence that many of the chemicals used in fracking can damage the lungs, liver, kidneys, blood, and brain. We discuss the controversial technique of fracking and raise the issue of how to balance the need for energy with the protection of the public’s health.

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