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EPA Asked to Consider New Public Health Study in Fracking Review

Lawmakers on the House Energy and Commerce Committee have called on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to consider the results of a recent study that concludes that hydraulic fracturing contributes to acute and chronic health problems when examining the potential risks of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) on water quality and public health.

"We ask that you consider a new study from the Colorado School of Public Health that raises concerns about the potential public health impact of air emissions from unconventional gas drilling operations," wrote Rep. Henry Waxman of California, the ranking member on the committee; and Rep. Diana DeGette of Colorado, the ranking Democrat on the committee's Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, in a letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson Tuesday.

The report, which looked at residents living about a half-mile from the wells, is in response to the rapid expansion of natural gas development in rural Garfield Country in western Colorado. Garfield County had asked the Colorado School of Public Health to assess the potential health impact of the wells on the community of Battlement Mesa, which has a population of about 5,000.

Scientists at the Colorado school reviewed three years of air monitoring data in Garfield County, CO, and found that residents living their natural gas wells may face increased exposure to benzene, a known human carcinogen, and other toxic chemicals, such as ethylbenzene, toluene and xylene, they said. The results of the study were released in mid-March.

The researchers concluded that there are higher lifetime cancer risks for people living closer to the wells, according to Waxman and DeGette. They also found that these nearby residents have a higher risk of neurological and respiratory health effects.

"Our data show that it is important to include air pollution in the national dialogue on natural gas development that has focused largely on water exposures to hydraulic fracturing," said Lisa McKenzie, lead author of the study and research associate at the Colorado School. The EPA review of the potential health effects of fracking was initiated in March 2010 (see Daily GPI, March 19, 2010).

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