A few residents of a small Wyoming town recently received some bad news. A study with volunteer participants showed higher than normal levels – as much as 10 times the national average – of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) present in participants’ bodies. VOCs have been linked to a number of health issues including problems breathing, rashes, headaches, nosebleeds, and even more serious ailments including cancer and reproductive disorders.
VOCs can come from a variety of sources. However, researchers behind this particular study are concerned about the possibility of VOC-contaminated air and drinking water from nearby natural gas operations. In March, a study by Stanford University researchers found evidence that the fracking operations near the town “have had clear impact to underground sources of drinking water.”
“Fracking” – short for hydraulic fracturing, a process of injecting pressurized water and sand into shale deposits to create fractures that make it easier to extract oil, natural gas, or even water – has been used since the late 1940s. In recent years, the process has come under increased scrutiny by environmental groups that claim fracking produces far-ranging negative consequences, both to the environment and to people who live in the areas where fracking occurs.
Protecting Yourself from Contaminated Water
Just because an oil or gas facility is in the neighborhood, the danger to nearby residents may be minimal or non-existent. Still, it’s important to be vigilant. Pay attention to your tap water for any changes in color, odor or taste. You can also contact your local water department, which can provide quality reports of the water in your area (if you use a public water system). Additionally, your local or state health department can provide information about labs that can test your water for VOCs, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and other byproducts of fracking.
There are also home water filtration systems that can remove VOCs and other harmful contaminants, such as lead, from water. NSF International provides this list of known contaminants and the type of water filtration system that is needed to remove them.
As a final precaution, you may want to familiarize yourself with the various health issues that have been reported by people who live near oil or gas wells, and talk to your doctor about any concerns you or your family members may have.
Moving out of the Fracking Zone
The jury is still out on whether fracking affects home values in nearby communities. Some studies say yes, others say no, which is not surprising considering the many factors that affect a home’s value. If you are thinking of moving out of the “fracking zone,” remember that it’s important to Know Before You Buy™. You’ll want to gather as much information as possible about your potential new home, as well as information about the neighborhood and surrounding area.
In addition to getting a Housefax Report – which can warn you of other potential hazards such as the possibility of lead paint or asbestos and whether the property was ever home to a meth lab – there are online websites that track the location of fracking sites and also the level of toxic air pollution. You can use this information to avoid moving into active and even potential fracking areas.
- Earthjustice (http://earthjustice.org/) provides a zoomable map of the United States that shows areas where fracking is currently active or proposed, as well as potential fracking zones and “fraccidents” – reported incidents attributed to fracking including “poisoned drinking water, polluted air, mysterious animal deaths, industrial disasters and explosions.” You can also search the map by zip code to see if your city (or the city you’re thinking of moving to) is in an active or potential fracking zone.
- The Oil and Gas Threat Map (http://oilandgasthreatmap.com/) denotes areas of the country where oil and gas facilities are causing high levels of methane and other toxic chemicals to be released into the air. As shown by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), this type of pollution raises the average health risk for cancer, respiratory ailments and birth defects in nearby populations. The Oil and Gas Threat Map draws on publicly available data from the U.S. Census Bureau, Department of Education and other sources to create interactive maps of 34 states. Zooming in on your state’s map, you can easily find your town and local landmarks, such as schools and hospitals, and see which areas are threatened with high levels of toxic air pollution.
These websites are also good sources of information about fracking and toxic air pollution, and about what is being done to reduce the potential dangers related to the process.