A study by the Colorado School of public health has shown that pollution caused by hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, may contribute to acute and chronic health problems for those living near natural gas drilling sites.


“Our data show that it is important to include air pollution in the national dialogue on natural gas development that has focused largely on water exposures to hydraulic fracturing,” said Lisa McKenzie, Ph.D., MPH, lead author of the study and research associate at the Colorado School of Public Health.


The report, which is based on three years of monitoring, found a number of potentially toxic petroleum hydrocarbons in the air near fracking wells, including the well known carcinogen benzene, ethylbenzene, toluene and xylene.


“Our results show that the non-cancer health impacts from air emissions due to natural gas development is greater for residents living closer to wells,” the report said. “The greatest health impact corresponds to the relatively short-term, but high emission, well completion period.”


According to the study, prolonged exposure to trimethylbenzenes, aliaphatic hydrocarbons, and xylenes can cause serious neurological and respiratory conditions.


“We also calculated higher cancer risks for residents living nearer to the wells as compared to those residing further [away],” the report said. “Benzene is the major contributor to lifetime excess cancer risk from both scenarios.” The report, which looked at those living about a half-mile from the wells, comes in response to the rapid expansion of natural gas development in rural Garfield County, in western Colorado.


The study will be published in the upcoming edition of Science of the Total Environment