Protecting Your Health

Industrial activities can pollute the air, water, and soil around nearby homes. If you are worried about your health because you live near shale gas development (SGD), you don’t need to wait for test results or illness to confirm your sense that you may be faced with health risks. You can take action now by keeping a health diary, talking with a trusted healthcare provider, monitoring air and water/soil quality, and taking special precautions as an industry worker.

 

Health

A health diary is a way for you to keep track of patterns in your health and the factors that might impact it. Particularly if you live near shale gas development (SGD), keeping a health diary may help you and your health professional determine if there are connections between environmental conditions and your health. Taking your health diary to any medical appointments can help facilitate the conversation. 


There are many options available to record your health information. You can write it in a notebook or journal, use an online health diary, or use a smartphone app such as Symple for Apple products and Medicalog for Android.


It’s best to use your health diary every day, but you also want to use it any time you notice a change in your health or in the surrounding environmental conditions. For more information on what to include in your health diary, see the graphic below. 

Health Diary Infographic.png

Many people, at one time or another, have had difficulty talking with a health professional. Talking about shale gas exposures is no exception. These conversations can be challenging when patients have difficulty understanding the technical terminology used by a doctor, when they lack information about medication prescribing, and when they feel like there isn’t enough time for the conversation. While these discussions can be difficult and at times intimidating, it is important to remember that you are your own advocate. You deserve to receive medical care in a supportive and healthy environment, realizing of course that the health professional is also human. 

 

To help you make the most of your time when meeting with a health professional:

  1. Prepare for your visit. Consult your health diary to see if there have been any changes with your health and brainstorm questions you might ask. Set an agenda and be prepared with what you want to discuss. 

  2. Ask questions at the start of the appointment to help you focus your time. Continue to ask questions throughout the appointment. Even the best health professionals can at times share complex terms or lots of information quickly. Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification, for information to be repeated, or for an explanation of something using plain language. If you feel a specific point was brushed off, bring it to the health professional’s attention again. It can give them the chance to add more information or explain their response. 

  3. Be honest. It’s important to share how you are feeling, your concerns, and relevant health symptoms. Sometimes you may feel embarrassed or afraid to share personal information, but the more you share, the better a health professional can try to help. While their job is to help you feel better, they are also required to uphold your privacy. 

  4. Summarize what you heard during the appointment and repeat it back to the health professional to confirm your understanding. If you need additional support, ask to record the conversation, or request written instruction or notes to help remind you of what was discussed. Most phones have voice recording apps pre-installed, and there are other apps, like Abridge, made for recording medical conversations. 


At the end of the day, remember that you have the power. If you feel a health professional isn’t listening or isn’t able to offer the support you are looking for, consider finding a different provider. It's important to have a responsive, supportive health professional, one who is the right fit for you.

 

Air

If you live near SGD activities and are concerned about air quality, there are ways to monitor potential air pollution in your environment. There are a variety of air monitors, each of which monitors different types of emissions. Before deciding what monitor to use, it’s important to figure out what air emissions you want to monitor. Two lower-cost monitors include: 

  • PurpleAir monitors measure PM1.0, PM2.5, and PM10 using laser counter technology. Indoor monitors are also available on their website: www2.purpleair.com.

  • SUMMA canisters monitor volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and other chemicals near industrial sites. SUMMA canisters cost approximately $200 per 24-hour use and can be ordered through ALS testing services provider. Formaldehyde and hydrogen sulfide badges can also be purchased and clipped on to the SUMMA canister sampler for the same 24-hour period. 


In addition to monitoring air quality near your home, there are many other ways to protect yourself from the potentially harmful effects of air pollution:

  • Use an air purifier: There are many types of air filters for home use. EHP recommends the Austin Air Healthmate because it removes chemicals, small particles, odors, and dust from inside air. Although an air filtration system like the Austin Air HealthMate is optimal, there are other low-cost options available. Reducing Outdoor Contaminants in Indoor Spaces (ROCIS) offers a DIY, low-cost fan/filter to remove particles in the air. To learn more about assembling your own fan/filter, click here.

  • Remove avoidable indoor air pollutants:

    • Avoid bringing contaminated dirt and dust into your home by taking off your shoes and wiping off pets’ paws and fur before going inside. Remove contaminated clothing before entering the home to reduce family exposures.

    • Keep windows and doors closed and use an air conditioner, if you have one, to help keep outdoor air outside.

    • If you use well or spring water, vent indoor air to help reduce exposures to volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that could be in your water.

    • Vacuum inside your home instead of sweeping. Sweeping could stir any particles that may be on the ground and spread them around while vacuuming is more likely to remove them. 

  • Pay attention to the weather: Use resources like AirNow to better know whether upcoming days will have good, moderate, or poor air quality. On days where bad air quality is likely, close windows and go elsewhere if possible. If you are home when the air is unhealthy, limit your outdoor activities. During very unhealthy conditions, stay indoors.

 

Radon 

 

Test your home and basement periodically for radon gas. Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that can seep into homes and collect in closed spaces like basements. Radon levels in homes are variable and may be higher in the winter than in the summer. It’s good to check your radon levels once or twice a year and in different seasons. The EPA recommends homes be fixed if the radon level is 4 pCi/L (picocuries per liter) or more, but you should also consider mitigation if your reading is above 2 pCi/L, since there is no known safe level of exposure to radon. 


Some studies have suggested that in-home radon levels may change due to shale gas development in the area. Even if you have had a radon mitigation system installed, EHP recommends that you still test your radon levels periodically.
Protect PT's (Penn Trafford) Radon Air Monitoring Program (RAMP) helps residents in Westmoreland and Allegheny counties check their homes for increased levels of radon. For more information, visit their website here


If you’re a Pennsylvania resident and have either tested your home or other buildings for radon and found screening levels greater than 100 picocuries per liter or have had an active (fan-powered) radon mitigation system installed in your home within the last year, you may receive a free, long-term radon test kit. For this free kit, call the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection at 1-800-237-2366 or 1-717-783-3594. For more information, visit the PA DEP website here


If you are outside of Pennsylvania reach out to the National Radon Program Services at Kansas State University, which has test kits you can purchase online. Test kits can also be found from local or state American Lung Associations, local or county health departments, or your state radon office

 

Water/Soil

Different levels of water contamination call for different plans of action. At minimum, if testing shows that your well is contaminated, do not drink the water. Notify your state department of environmental protection and department of health. Specific reporting information can be found in the Where to Turn Directory


If more serious contamination is found, you should also limit bathing and cooking with this water and ventilate rooms where the water is used (for example, laundry, kitchen, and bathrooms). If your water becomes contaminated, you should consider long-term water treatment options


Some of the steps you can take to address water contamination include: 

  • Get your water tested. For specific recommendations visit the Where to Turn Directory.

  • Avoid using it and consider using bottled water for drinking, cooking, and especially making drinks like baby formula.

  • Consider using an alternative source of water when showering (such as a shower bag) since VOCs can become airborne when water sprays from a showerhead. 

  • If you must drink or cook with your spring or well water, leave it uncovered in a pitcher or bottle overnight before using it to allow VOCs to evaporate. If possible, also vent the air. 

  • Ventilate rooms where you are using water. Be sure your bathroom is effectively vented with an exhaust fan to pull steam and air out while the water is running, until all water vapor is out of the air. If possible, vent the air in your laundry area and kitchen as well when you use the water.  

  • Filter your water. There are many options for home water filters, but no filter will remove all possible contaminants. At a minimum, you can filter your tap water for drinking and cooking with a filtered water pitcher, available at many stores or online. Other devices attach to faucets, fit under the kitchen sinks, or even filter all household water. 

  • Stop drinking your water if you or someone in your family has stomach pain or discomfort, muscle pains, or other unusual symptoms. Follow up with a health professional as soon as possible. 

  • If your water burns your skin or causes a rash, take showers and baths somewhere else if you can. See your health professional and call your state environmental protection agency.  

  • If you live in Pennsylvania and you experience health symptoms related to your water, contact the PA Oil and Natural Gas Production Health Registry and record your symptoms. 

  • Stay informed. Pennsylvania residents are encouraged to sign up with the PA DEP e-notice program, which will alert you when drilling permits have been issued in your area so you will know which activities are taking place near your home. If you live in another state, contact your state department of environmental protection for information on drilling permits or other shale gas issues.

Some of the steps you can take for soil contamination include: 

  • Test your soil, especially in areas where children play, or food is grown.

  • Build raised beds to grow any foods you will eat.

  • Wear gloves when handling soil.

  • Wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly and remove outer leaves before eating.

  • Remove shoes upon entering your residence to reduce the spread of contamination.

 

Industry Worker

As an industry worker, it is important to be aware that many of the chemicals used in SGD are toxic and that waste (solid, sludge, and liquid) is not only toxic but can be radioactive as well. Limiting exposure to direct skin contact and inhalation are important to protecting your health. 
In addition to being toxic, SGD chemicals can explosive and can displace oxygen when released. Because of this, it is important to avoid enclosed spaces, such as tanks or trucks, and areas of emission release, such as hatches and vents. Lastly, it’s important to take appropriate precautions, including self-care. Fatigue and exhaustion, often due to long hours, can lead to accidents, which are major contributors to injury and even death in the oil and gas industry. 
Be careful not to take toxic substances home with you where they can impact your family. Children, pregnant individuals and fetuses, and the elderly are particularly vulnerable to environmental exposures. Protect your family with the following: 

  • Shower and change clothes and shoes before entering your vehicle or home if possible. If you can, find a location where you can change your clothes and shoes where other family members will not come into contact with them.

  • Do not use your family washer and dryer to launder clothes that may be contaminated. If you must, wash and dry your work clothes separately from the rest of your family’s clothes.

  • Clean or change your footwear so that contaminants on your footwear are not tracked into the family car or home. 

 

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