Understanding exposure from natural gas drilling puts current air standards to the test


Case study descriptions of acute onset of respiratory, neurologic, dermal, vascular, abdominal, and gastrointestinal sequelae near natural gas facilities contrast with a subset of emissions research, which suggests that there is limited risk posed by unconventional natural gas development (UNGD). An inspection of the pathophysiological effects of acute toxic actions reveals that current environmental monitoring protocols are incompatible with the goal of protecting the health of those living and working near UNGD activities. The intensity, frequency, and duration of exposures to toxic materials in air and water determine the health risks to individuals within a population. Currently, human health risks near UNGD sites are derived from average population risks without adequate attention to the processes of toxicity to the body. The objective of this paper is to illustrate that current methods of collecting emissions data, as well as the analyses of these data, are not sufficient for accurately assessing risks to individuals or protecting the health of those near UNGD sites. Focusing on air pollution impacts, we examined data from public sources and from the published literature. We compared the methods commonly used to evaluate health safety near UNGD sites with the information that would be reasonably needed to determine plausible outcomes of actual exposures. Such outcomes must be based on the pathophysiological effects of the agents present and the susceptibility of residents near these sites. Our study has several findings. First, current protocols used for assessing compliance with ambient air standards do not adequately determine the intensity, frequency or durations of the actual human exposures to the mixtures of toxic materials released regularly at UNGD sites. Second, the typically used periodic 24-h average measures can underestimate actual exposures by an order of magnitude. Third, reference standards are set in a form that inaccurately determines health risk because they do not fully consider the potential synergistic combinations of toxic air emissions. Finally, air dispersion modeling shows that local weather conditions are strong determinates of individual exposures. Appropriate estimation of safety requires nested protocols that measure real time exposures. New protocols are needed to provide 1) continuous measures of a surrogate compound to show periods of extreme exposure; 2) a continuous screening model based on local weather conditions to warn of periodic high exposures; and 3) comprehensive detection of chemical mixtures using canisters or other devices that capture the major components of the mixtures.

Click here for more information.