People living near oil and gas facilities may be exposed to high levels of toxic air pollutants, and face an increased risk of cancer, according to the findings of a new study.
Researchers determined people living within 500 feet of oil and gas wells and facilities are more likely to develop cancer, according to findings published late last month in the medical journal Environmental Science & Technology.
In the study, researchers from the Colorado School of Public Health, Boulder County Public Health, CU Boulder, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and the University of California Irvine examined residential inhalation exposure to air pollution. They focused on hydrocarbons emitted by oil and gas factories, using ambient air samples to estimate 1 hour and 30 year residential inhalation exposure for four residential scenarios along Colorado’s Northern Front Range.
Researchers noted both the hydrocarbon air pollutants and the risk of health problems increased closer to oil and gas plants. The increases in exposure put residents at higher risk of neurological, hematological, and developmental side effects, according to the findings.
The data indicated a person living within 500 feet of any oil or gas plant had eight times the lifetime risk of cancer. The researchers noted that the 500-foot distance did little to protect residents from potential health risks, and found that many people live even closer than that.
According to the researchers, nearly 20% of Denver’s population, or 350,000 people, live within a half mile of an active oil or gas site.
Additionally, the average benzene concentrations were 41 times higher in samples collected within 500 feet of an oil and gas facility than those collected father away.
Researchers noted that benzene levels may also be twice as high during the night, when samples weren’t taken. This is because of high atmospheric stability, meaning the emissions don’t disperse the way they do during the day.
Previous studies have found that air pollution may increase the risk of some types of strokes, increase the risk of death, even at levels lower than national safety standards, and is harmful to the heart and cardiovascular system.
Researchers emphasized the need for policies that monitor and reduce emissions, especially in areas near homes, schools, and other recreation areas. A study published last month indicated reducing air pollution emissions could save more than 153 million people globally.