State health department publishes oil and gas health risk study

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CONTACT: Jessica Bralish, CDPHE Communications Director, 303-349-7527,
DENVER: The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment today published the state-funded study, “Human Health Risk Assessment for Oil & Gas Operations in Colorado,” which was conducted by an external contractor. The Journal of the Air and Waste Management Association published today a peer-reviewed article summarizing the study.
The study uses emissions data from oil and gas operations in Colorado to estimate what people could be exposed to as a result of oil and gas development. The study is not based on actual health impacts people have reported from oil and gas operations or on measured concentrations in the air surrounding the well pad.
According to the study, exposure to chemicals used in oil and gas development, such as benzene, may cause short-term negative health impacts (e.g., headaches, dizziness, respiratory, skin, and eye irritation) during “worst-case” conditions. The study found that there is a possibility of negative health impacts at distances from 300 feet out to 2000 feet. Since the study is a modeling study, it does not measure the actual concentrations people are exposed in areas surrounding well pads or the health impacts that people have reported.
“This study is the first of its kind because it used actual emissions data to model potential exposure and health risks,” said Environmental Programs Director John Putnam. “It is an important addition to the increasing body of knowledge about the potential health risks associated with oil and gas operations. As we learn more, we have a better roadmap for where we need additional research. However, while we pursue further research, we won’t delay enacting stricter emissions standards for chemicals that cause human health effects, ozone pollution, and climate change. This study just reinforces what we already know: we need to minimize emissions from oil and gas sources.”
The study calls for additional measurements to better understand how the model represents real-world conditions and how often people might be exposed worst-case conditions.
The “Human Health Risk Assessment for Oil &, Gas Operations in Colorado” study stemmed from 2017, when the department released an evaluation of the existing science on oil and gas health impacts. The 2017 assessment looked at the health risks from certain substances using then-available air monitoring data. The department was concurrently funding a different study using 2016 Colorado State University emissions data from a number of oil and gas facilities in the Northern Front Range and Garfield County. The 2017 assessment called for further research into the possible health effects and exposures for people living close to wells.