Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Toxins from Compressor Emissions Show up in Blood Tests

Compressor station on Federal Road in Erin, NY (Chemung County).

 When Calvin Tillman, mayor of Dish, Texas came to visit upstate New York in February, he talked about the air quality issues facing his small town. Dish is in the heart of the Barnett shale and at the crossroads where 11 high pressure natural gas pipelines converge. Five energy companies have installed a dozen compressors and associated gas treatment facilities; there are four gas metering stations in town and 18 gas wells within the corporate limits. Another 50-plus gas wells are located immediately beyond the town’s limits.

The problem, he said, is that toxic emissions from the compressors are causing health problems for residents in town. Finally the Texas State Dept. of Health took heed and, in January, they took blood and urine samples from 28 people in the little town. Today, Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe reports in the Denton-Record Chronicle that the same pollutants found in the air are also found in residents' bodies.

The health department found toluene, butadiene, and N,N-dimethylformamide in the samples. All three compounds are among 187 airborne toxic substances that the Environmental Protection Agency is supposed to monitor, notes Heinkel-Wolfe. According to studies compiled by the US Dept. of Health and Human Services, dimethylformamide can cause liver damage, butadiene can cause cancer and toluene can affect the nervous system and the kidneys.

But while everyone has been focusing on the pollutants in the air, they've been overlooking the water contamination. Last August researchers found ethylbenzene and styrene air samples. Now the state health investigators have found both ethylbenzene and styrene in private drinking water wells.

While it's true that upstate NY don't have a 30-acre site with a dozen compressors like Dish has - at least not yet - we do have compressor stations scattered throughout our countryside. Near me, there is a compressor station up on Cooper Hill in Van Etten and another one on Federal Road in Erin (article, post). Both are located in rural areas, surrounded by fields, forest and the occasional house. But, says the Erin code enforcement officer John Mccracken, more will come with development of Marcellus shale. There are about 20 drilling applications for Erin (no permits yet) and Mccracken estimates that Erin might see another five compressor stations.

There's lots of evidence that urban air pollution harms human health. It's been harder for rural people to show that industrial activities harm their health. But now it looks like the evidence is finally showing up. The lesson NY needs to glean: Permits need to take into account the cumulative air quality, not just the individual station. Oh, and along with those noise-baffling walls, require the energy companies to install compressors with up-to-date vapor-capture technologies that result in negligible emissions.

1 comment:

  1. Glad to hear that someone else is paying attention to cumulative effects. Yours is the first report I've read about blood samples and fracing chemicals. Thanks for the information.