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Fracking may cause air pollution, respiratory issues

A new study finds air contaminants from fracking exceed levels approved as safe by the Environmental Protection Agency and may pose health risks to people.
By Stephen Feller   |   May 13, 2015 at 1:45 PM

CORVALLIS, Ore., May 13 (UPI) -- The explosion of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in the oil and natural gas industry as a method of extracting fuels from shale basins has raised dozens of environmental concerns including increased risk of air pollution and respiratory issues among them.

A new study found that contaminants in the air from fracking exceed levels deemed safe by the Environmental Protection Agency and may pose health risks to those exposed.

The study, conducted by researchers from Oregon State University, was conducted in Carroll County, Ohio, the busiest county for fracking in the state with 354 horizontal wells spread throughout its 399 square-miles.

Fracking causes polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) to be released as a byproduct of the process. Some of these are linked to cancer and respiratory ailments.

"Air pollution from fracking operations may pose an under-recognized health hazard to people living near them," Kim Anderson, an environmental chemist with OSU's College of Agricultural Sciences, said in a press release.

Researchers placed passive air samplers near 23 properties up to 3 miles from natural gas wells, testing for 62 PAHs over the course of three weeks. The samplers detected 32 PAHs, with levels decreasing further away from wells.

Samples showed that those living or working closest to wells would be at 30 percent higher risk than those a mile or more away. The data showed, however, that anybody in the study area, based on calculations using the EPA's worst case scenario of exposure 24 hours a day for 25 years would be exposed at to a risk higher than what the agency says is acceptable.

"Actual risk would depend heavily on exposure time, exposure frequency and proximity to a natural gas well," Anderson said. "We made these calculations to put our findings in context with other, similar risk assessments and to compare the levels we found with the EPA's acceptable risk level."

The study was published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.

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