|The fracking process releases toxic chemicals into the air.|
The researchers took air samples in Carroll County, the home of 480 permitted wells––the most in any of Ohio's 88 counties.
The team found chemicals released during oil and gas extraction that can raise people's risk of cancer and respiratory ailments.
Researchers caution they don't want to create undue alarm with their findings, but they say they hope the results will highlight the urgent need to conduct more in-depth studies of fracking emissions and the potential effects on human health.
"What we see here suggests that more needs to be known about the risks people face when exposed," said study co-leader Erin Haynes, a University of Cincinnati scientist.
Based on the data collected, researchers calculated the cancer risk posed by airborne contaminants in the Carroll County study areas.
For the worst-case scenario––exposure 24 hours a day over 25 years––they found that a person anywhere in the study area would be exposed at a risk level exceeding the threshold the EPA deems acceptable.
The lifetime cancer risk in the study area estimated for maximum residential exposure was 2.9 in 10,000, which is nearly three times the EPA's acceptable risk level of 1 in 10,000, according to the study.
Anderson cautioned that the study numbers are worst-case estimates and can't predict the risk to any individual.
The EPA did not respond to questions about the findings.
The study focused on pollutants known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH). These are organic compounds containing carbon and hydrogen, found in fossil fuels.
The study mirrored other research conducted in heavily fracked areas of the country, including Texas and Pennsylvania, that have focused on volatile organic compounds. These chemicals, including benzene and toluene, also are carbon-based chemicals in the same chain as those studied in Ohio––and they present similar dangers to human health.
With fracking on the rise across the country, the study authors and other scientists say there are simply too many unknowns about the potential health effects associated with the toxic chemicals released from oil and gas operations.
'Growing Concerns and a Lot of Questions'
The study got its start when a group of citizens approached Haynes, a public health expert at the University of Cincinnati, seeking information about health risks from natural gas extraction near their homes.
None of those people said they were sickened by breathing the air, but they wanted to know more about the potential consequences, Anderson said.
"There was some concern with all of the wells that were starting to go in around their homes," Anderson said. "People want to know; wanted to get answers about how all the [fracking] activity might be affecting them."
Anderson and her associates teamed with Haynes to design a study that relied on volunteers to collect air samples in Carroll County, which is home to about 30,000 people.
After volunteers were recruited through a community meeting and word-of-mouth, air samplers were placed on the properties of 23 volunteers; they lived or worked at sites ranging from immediate proximity to a gas well to a little more than three miles away.
The aluminum box monitors contained specially treated material that absorbed contaminants. The volunteers were trained in proper handling of the samplers and documenting data.
At the conclusion of the study, the samplers were sealed in airtight bags and returned to Anderson's lab at OSU for analysis.
The samplers picked up high levels of pollution associated with fracking in the areas studied, according to the report. Levels taken within one-tenth of a mile of a well were highest; they decreased by about 30 percent in samples taken a little more than three miles from a well.
Source: Inside Climate News
This article has been edited for length.
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