Compressor Stations

Gas compressor stations, located every 50-60 miles along gas pipelines, help push the gas through the pipeline to the next station. During normal operations, they emit a mixture of toxic chemicals into the air that are known to impact human health.

 

These toxics can be carried downwind from the compressor station to residents in surrounding areas, impacting people living within a six mile radius of the compressor station or, in some cases, a greater distance, depending on weather conditions and terrain. Emissions can include particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, and volatile organic compounds including benzene, toluene, hexane, xylene, and formaldehyde.

 

Emissions occur continuously during normal operations, as hazardous pollutants carried with the gas are vented or leak from equipment. Some emissions can also occur during routine maintenance operations such as “blowdowns,” when large amounts of chemical contaminants are released into the air intentionally.

Health Impacts of Compressor Stations

Emissions from shale gas compressor stations are known to cause both acute and chronic health impacts. Some occur at a relatively steady rate, while others occur in episodic peaks. Weather conditions and wind direction may affect an individual’s actual exposure. As a result of these factors, acute health symptoms may be persistent, episodic, or temporary.

 

The episodic intense peak exposures, which may last for minutes to several hours, can precipitate acute health symptoms, even though the total emissions averaged over a 24-hour or longer period can appear to be much less.

 

Exposure to the air contaminants increases an individual’s risk for the development or worsening of pre-existing respiratory or cardiovascular disease. In addition, some of the contaminants have adverse neurologic effects, others are carcinogenic.

 

As with other forms of air pollution, those at increased risk include children, developing fetuses, the elderly, and individuals with chronic respiratory or cardiovascular disease.

Health care providers practicing in or near areas where compressor stations are operating should be aware of the chemicals being emitted and the possible health impacts of exposure to those chemicals for their adult and pediatric patients. Visit EHP's Health Professional Toolkit for more information.