By Evelyn O. Talbott - Op-Ed
June 4, 2016
Over the past decade, Washington County has seen a surge of shale gas infrastructure. All this drilling activity has been touted by elected officials and industry advocates as the economic savior of Pennsylvania, a wellspring of jobs and wealth.
However, Washington County has a history of increased ozone levels in areas of traffic and industry density, making the area vulnerable to additional fossil-fuel insult.
Currently, there are no state regulations limiting methane pollution from natural-gas infrastructure, despite the fact that there are affordable and available control technologies, many of which are made right here in Pennsylvania. Toxic air pollutants, such as volatile organic compounds, are also leaked from oil and gas facilities alongside methane. These toxic pollutants include many known carcinogens and also contribute to forming smog, or ground-level ozone, which is linked to asthma and other respiratory diseases.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency just finalized a strong rule for new oil and gas facilities that will cut methane pollution. But we also need the EPA and the Wolf Administration to hasten its efforts to cut pollution from the existing oil and gas facilities.
I was involved with a study last year at the University of Pittsburgh that analyzed birth weights of infants born during 2007-2010 in Washington, Westmoreland and Butler counties. Mothers were categorized into exposure quartiles based on the density of gas wells. The least exposed mothers (first quartile) had a well count of less than 0.87 wells per mile, while the most exposed (fourth quartile) had 6.00 wells or greater per mile. A comparison of the most to least exposed revealed lower birth weight and a higher incidence of small-for-gestational-age children. These findings emphasize the need for region-specific studies of the characterization of exposure over an extended period of time to evaluate the potential public health significance of unconventional gas drilling.
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