Is My Health at Risk from Shale Gas Development?

Over the past decade, southwestern Pennsylvania has become a web of nearly 2,000 wells and hundreds more storage facilities, pipelines, and compressor stations that go with them. Soon, an immense plastics cracker plant will be added to the mix, requiring more wells and more pipelines to feed it.

Many residents live dangerously close to shale gas development. Maybe you are one of them. In Washington County, for example, one in four residents lives within a half mile of at least one such site. Many more people work within a stone’s throw of a shale gas facility. Thousands of children go to school or play outdoors within sight of one.

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With so much petrochemical development in such a small and populated area, you may be wondering: Is my health at risk?

The answer is likely yes. At every stage of shale gas production, fine particles, fumes, and chemicals pour into the air. Some of the pollutants are released on purpose to maintain the right pressure in pipeline systems. Some are released accidentally through undetected leaks. On top of that, increased diesel truck traffic spews even more pollution into the local air.

Depending on prevailing winds, this pollution can travel miles from the source. Pollutants can also get into well water or be present in the soil. They can enter your body through your lungs or your skin, or they can be ingested through eating or drinking.

At the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project (EHP), we’ve measured these pollutants with air monitoring equipment, and we’ve compared these emissions with health effects people have reported experiencing.

What we’ve found is that people who live near shale gas development suffer a host of health problems – asthma, fatigue, rashes, nausea, stress, headaches, and memory impairment, among others. Many studies by reliable researchers have shown that long-term exposure to these pollutants can damage your heart, liver, kidneys, and central nervous system. Over time, exposure to chemicals like benzene and formaldehyde and can raise the risk of getting cancer.

Given these risks, you may be asking yourself: What can I do to protect myself and my family?

There some things you can do to help reduce your risk of health problems. You can:

  • Place a HEPA-certified air filter in your home
  • Remove avoidable indoor air pollutants like smoke
  • Pay attention to the weather and when it contributes to poor air quality, and close your windows or stay inside when conditions warrant
  • Contact your health care provider about any symptoms you or your family members may be experiencing
  • Request air monitoring from EHP that tracks pollutants inside and outside your home
  • Have an EHP public health nurse visit you, or come in for a health assessment
  • Join the Health Effects Registry and get your health symptoms on record
  • Contact your local government representatives to demand that shale gas companies detect and fix leaks

Your health is precious. Having the right knowledge at your fingertips can go a long way toward protecting you and your family members from harm. For assistance or more information, please contact us at 724-260-5504 or by email at info [at] environmentalhealthproject.org.

The Environmental Health Project (EHP) is a nonprofit public health organization that defends public health in the face of oil and gas development. We provide frontline communities with timely monitoring, interpretation and guidance. We engage diverse stakeholders: health professionals, researchers, community organizers, public servants, and others. We do so because knowledge protects health.

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