Twenty-eight residents of tiny DISH, TX — where Barnett Shale natural gas drilling and pipeline operations have been suspected of polluting the air — who were tested for exposure to volatile organic compounds (VOC) were not found to have unusual levels of the contaminants, according to results of biological tests from a Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) investigation.

“The information obtained from this investigation did not indicate that community-wide exposures from gas wells or compressor stations were occurring in the sample population,” the study report said.

In response to community concerns about potential health effects of gas drilling, DSHS collected biological samples from 28 DISH residents in late January to determine whether the levels of VOCs in their blood were higher than those measured in the broader population.

“In DISH, we found no pattern to our test results indicating community-wide exposure to any of these contaminants,” said Dr. Carrie Bradford, the DSHS toxicologist who led the investigation. “We were looking to see whether a single contaminant or a handful of contaminants were notably elevated in many or all of the people we tested. We didn’t find that pattern in DISH.”

DSHS said it paid particular attention to benzene because of its association with natural gas wells. The only residents who had higher levels of benzene in their blood were smokers. Because cigarette smoke contains benzene, finding it in smokers’ blood is not unusual.

Some residents had test results that were at or below expected levels for various VOCs. Others had results that were slightly higher than the levels found in the U.S. population data. However, the type of slightly elevated VOC varied considerably from individual to individual, indicating no particular pattern. Many of these compounds are found in a wide array of commonly used products, DSHS said.

“A few individuals had higher levels of bromoform, chloroform and dibromochloromethane in their blood than 95% of the U.S. population. These are disinfectant byproducts associated with the chlorination of public drinking water systems. All of these individuals were on the same public water system,” the study report said.

While the purpose of the investigation was to determine whether people were being exposed to specific contaminants, it does not determine specific exposure sources, nor does it provide an assessment of possible long-term exposures, DSHS said.

A community meeting to discuss the results is to be held at 7 p.m. Tuesday (May 18) at the DISH town hall from 7 to 8:30 p.m. May 18.

In February the DISH Town Council declared a 90-day moratorium on new drilling permits within the city limits (see Daily GPI, Feb. 10). A recent air quality study by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) found that emissions in the Barnett Shale were “well below” acceptable limits (see Daily GPI, Jan. 28). To better regulate emissions, TCEQ is in the process of inventorying gas field equipment so that it might model emissions projections (see Daily GPI, May 3).

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