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When the wind blows: tracking toxic chemicals in gas fields and impacted communities

Figure 1- John Fenton points to Pavillion farms and gas development sitesWhen the Wind Blows: Tracking Toxic Chemicals in Gas Fields and Impacted Communities is a report documenting Coming Clean’s collaborative, community-based research project to monitor toxic volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in gas fields in rural Pavillion, Wyoming and to see what same VOCs are present in the bodies of people who work and live there.

It focuses on volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and a specific family of VOCs named BTEX chemicals (Benzene, Toluene, Ethylbenzene, and Xylenes) – because these chemicals are also known to be hazardous to human health, even at low levels.

The report combines a description of the methods development, with monitoring findings and hazard assessment data on high-concern chemicals, for a more comprehensive understanding of the seemingly unavoidable  health hazards associated with gas production.  In When the Wind Blows, the high hazard of the chemicals emitted into the air, together with the findings that the levels of certain VOC metabolites in urine of the people studied are well above the levels in the general population, sends a clear signal that government agencies must act now to protect people who live and work in the Pavillion area and in oil and gas fields across the U.S.  


Authors: Elizabeth Crowe, Sharyle Patton, Deborah Thomas, Beverley Thorpe
With assistance from: Carolyn Cox. Carol Kwiatowski, John Fenton. Jessica Roff, Miriam Rotkin-Ellman, Ted Schettler, Kim Schultz, Wilma Subra, Eric Whalen
Published: June 2016
Executive Summary:
The results are a new data set which combines air monitoring, biomonitoring and hazard assessment findings.
The new data set provides a more comprehensive understanding of what Pavillion area residents are breathing and
what health outcomes might result from these chemical exposures. Specific results from multiple air monitoring
tools, the biomonitoring data collected from eleven community residents, and GreenScreen chemical hazard assessments show:
• Toxic chemicals present in the air near Pavillion, /WY, including BTEX chemicals, are consistent with those associated with oil and gas production and its associated infrastructure. This finding is consistent with other air monitoring findings from the Pavillion area as well as additional oil and gas production sites in Wyoming and in the US.
• Hazardous breakdown products of BTEX chemicals and other VOCs associated oil and gas production are also present in the bodies of the Pavillion area residents who participated in this study.
• Eight chemicals that were detected both in the air near Pavillion and in the bodies of project participants are
linked to chronic diseases such as cancer or other illnesses including reproductive or developmental disorders
and to health problems such as respiratory difficulties, headaches, nosebleeds, skin rashes, and depression.
• The results from both human and air monitoring indicate that study participants during the week of monitoring were intermittently exposed to complex mixtures of chemical substances associated with oil and gas production.
• Levels of some hazardous VOCs in air both near the gas production sites and that study participants were breathing exceeded one or more Environmental Screening Level (ESLs), which are the levels of toxic substances that public health agencies and environmental regulators have determined as warning signs for risk to human health.
• Hazardous breakdown products of VOCs were present in the urine of study participants at much higher levels than those found in the general population, with one example up to ten times higher.


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