New Study Finds Low Public Health Risk from Oil and Gas Development

The Ministry of Health in British Columbia, Canada recently released phase two of its Human Health Risk Assessment (HHRA) of oil and gas activities in the area, which found that the risk of impacts to public health are low. As the new assessment concludes:

“The overall findings of the detailed HHRA of oil and gas activity in NE BC suggest that, while there is some possibility for elevated COPC [chemicals of potential concern] concentrations to occur at some locations, the probability that adverse health impacts would occur in association with these exposures is considered to be low.” (page ii)

The results are in line with numerous studies by health and environmental regulators in the United States.  The findings also directly contradict Governor Cuomo’s decision to ban fracking in New York, which as EID has highlighted, was based on biased studies, some of which that were even written and peer-reviewed by anti-fracking activists.

The B.C. study evaluated continuous air emissions from gas process plants and production facilities in three regions. The 150 km by 176 km area chosen was done so to include the largest area of oil and gas development and the most densely populated areas in the region.  It encompasses 26 locations including Fort St. John, Dawson Creek and Chetwynd, along with smaller communities and First Nation lands.

The study also included non-oil and gas emitters in the area that could contribute to the air quality of the area and took into consideration populations with sensitive health, age and other external parameters. It looked at both long-term and short-term health risks, and compared those with exposure limits from various authorities such as the World Health Organization, Health Canada, and U.S. EPA.

In other words, it was a very comprehensive analysis of actual emissions and potential impacts. Here are some of the key findings, emphasis added:

“In general, the predicted short-term air concentrations of the COPC were less than their health based exposure limits. As well, the potential combined risks of these COPC were not predicted to result in adverse health effects in people living or visiting the study area. However, the predicted exposures at some locations were found to exceed exposure limits for certain individual COPC (acrolein, formaldehyde, NO2, SO2, PM 2.5) and the mixtures that these COPC were part of (the eye, nasal and respiratory irritants). The exceedances for formaldehyde, NO2 and SO2 were found to be attributable to Oil and Gas emission sources, with some contributions from other sources in the area. Due to the rare nature of these exceedances and the margin of safety built into the HHRA, these exposures are not expected to result in adverse health effects.

The study found that most of the short-term emissions were under exposure limit guidelines, and that even in the minimal cases where emissions exceeded exposure limits from both oil and gas and other sources, they would not result in adverse health effects. The study also found that:

“Overall, long-term inhalation exposures to the COPC were predicted to be associated with a low potential for adverse health effects. For fine particulate matter (PM 2.5), exceedances of the BC Ambient Air Quality Objective were predicted for only the Cumulative Scenario at two remote locations where people are unlikely to be regularly exposed. For formaldehyde, potential cancer risks were predicted for a remote location in close proximity to an oil and gas site. However, further analysis of this exceedance indicating that the probability for people to be exposed to formaldehyde concentrations at the predicted level over a lifetime was very low. When the potential combined, additive effects of the COPC were evaluated, nasal and respiratory irritant mixtures were predicted to have elevated risk estimates. However, given the locations of where the maximum concentrations for these chemicals were expected to occur (e.g. formaldehyde), and the degree of conservatism incorporated into the assessment, the potential mixture risks were determined to have a low potential for adverse health effects.

For long-term exposure, researchers looked at cancer risks, as well as other respiratory issues. Data showed that even with long-term exposure the possibility of there being adverse health effects was very low.

“In the assessment of potential exposures to the COPC that people in the area might receive over the long term through the consumption of locally-grown foods, drinking water, etc., it was determined that the potential for adverse human health effects is low.”

Finally, the study also looked at other ways populations may be exposed to the emissions aside from inhalation. This included long-term consumption of locally-grown foods and drinking water, and again the data showed a low risk for negative human health impacts.

All in all this study is great news for communities nearby oil and gas development, and adds to the mounting studies showing this activity has an exceedingly low risk of impacting health.

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