Garfield County health study points to oil and gas, environmental concerns
September 30, 2010
GLENWOOD SPRINGS – A recently released survey shows that concerns about the oil and gas industry are high on the list of environmental worries among local residents.
Garfield County health officials have finished a federally funded analysis of how county residents feel regarding public health issues, including the impacts of the natural gas industry on both environmental and individual health.
The study, called CARES (Community Action for Responsible Environmental Solutions) focused on residents’ awareness of, and concerns about, “any environmental factors that may have a bad impact on human health, or have an impact on the natural world that is bad in the long term for human health and the environments in which people live,” according to an executive summary of the study’s findings.
The contractor of the study, Royce Arbour Inc. of Boulder, invited 150 people who made up a cross section of county residents, although only 71 of those ultimately participated, said Royce Arbour President Diana Smith.
She explained that the survey was not intended to be a statistical look at “how many people felt this way, and how many others felt that way,” but was meant to produce a snapshot of opinions regarding environmental health in the county.
The full report, which was paid for with a $100,000 grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, can be viewed on the county’s website, at http://www.garfield-county.com, under “county departments” and “public health.”
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According to a listing on the website, the top environmental health concern among county residents is the need for a plan outlining the “response to environmental emergencies to protect human health,” followed by enforcement of existing environmental laws, preventing contamination of food and dealing with the hazards of “meth labs” that pose a risk of fire and explosions to their neighbors.
Concerns about health hazards posed by the natural-gas drilling industry followed, with exposure to benzene from gas wells drilled near homes at No. 5. Benzene is known to cause cancer in humans, and is one of a number of chemicals associated with gas drilling activities.
Up next were “chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing of natural gas wells” and the potential of that process contaminating soil, groundwater and drinking water supplies.
Hydraulic fracturing, or “frac’ing,” involves the injection of vast amounts of water, sand and chemicals into a well bore to break up deep layers of rock and free up trapped oil and gas reserves to flow to the surface.
At No. 7, the respondents noted that “pollution of Colorado River water, used for human consumption, may occur if drilling takes place too close to the river.”
Other concerns about the gas drilling industry came later in the listing, including odors and fumes from well operations; the potential of contamination of groundwater and streams from waste pits at drilling sites; and others.
Consultant Diana Smith told the Board of County Commissioners recently that the CARES findings form a foundation for future environmental health initiatives by the county health department, beginning with the 44 “key environmental issues” outlined on the website.
County commissioner Tresi Houpt, noting that the Environmental Health department is only five years old, applauded the CARES report and expressed hopeful confidence in where it may lead.
“I thank you for the comprehensive job you’re doing,” she told Environmental Health Director Jim Rada and Public Health Director Mary Meisner.