NORTH FORK VALLEY – Facing a potential boom in gas drilling, a community group in Delta County has decided to undertake its own air quality survey to establish a baseline against future air pollution claims.
Citizens for a Healthy Community (CHC), a group that formed in 2009 and has mobilized against natural gas lease sales adjacent to the communities of Paonia, Hotchkiss and Crawford, announced last week that it is launching a cutting-edge air-quality sampling project designed to establish baseline numbers for the region, by testing for toxic chemicals associated with natural gas drilling now while air quality is still relatively pristine.
Local residents will carry backpacks containing air-sampling devices to collect data over 24-hour periods to determine actual human exposure. CHC is beginning to work with local residents to identify sampling locations so that the first round of sampling can begin in September.
“It’s what we can’t see or smell – chemicals in the air that come from drilling – that could be harming the health of local families,” said Jim Ramey, director of CHC.
Three samples will be collected at the same time at different locations comprising one collection set. Two sets will be collected per month every four months over the course of one year, in order to account for changes in the seasons.
The project was developed with input from scientists at The Endocrine Disruption Exchange (TEDX), a Paonia-based nonprofit dedicated to collecting and disseminating scientific evidence on the health and environmental problems caused by low-dose exposure to chemicals that interfere with human development and function. The CHC baseline project will use backpack air sampling instead of a stationary sampling location.
While drilling is relatively minimal in the Delta County region at this time, it is important to establish a baseline to determine the current levels of chemicals associated with drilling prior to any further gas and oil development, said CHC in a release. Also, many traditional air-sampling projects overlook certain chemicals that can cause serious health effects at very low levels, which sometimes cannot be seen or smelled. CHC will test for these chemicals, called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), in its sampling.
Understanding personal exposure to chemicals is important because of the health effects of certain chemicals used in, or released by, drilling and fracking, said CHC in a release. These effects can include harm to the brain and the endocrine and nervous systems, organ damage, and cancer, and other symptoms such as burning eyes, rashes, coughs, sore throats, asthma-like symptoms, nausea, vomiting, headaches, dizziness, tremors, and convulsions.
“Our air sampling project could serve as a model for other communities across the country that are fighting to protect their health and environment from the boom in drilling and fracking,” Ramey said.
Concerns in other gas-patch communities have informed the design of this project. For example, at the recent rulemakings of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, members heard from Garfield County and the Front Range residents who have experienced health effects they believe were caused by airborne pollution sourced from drilling. State officials frequently claim that Colorado has the strongest regulations for oil and gas in the nation, but people are still getting sick when drill rigs move in.
“Citizen science is critical to holding the drilling industry and government responsible,” said Weston Wilson, a former employee of the Environmental Protection Agency. “Very few communities have the opportunity to establish their air quality baseline before large scale drilling and fracking begin.”
Currently, drilling in the Delta County region is limited to several wells per year. But the community is facing numerous proposals that could result in hundreds of new wells in the area.