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Air Emissions near Fracking Sites May Pose Health Risk, Study Shows; Sites Contain Hydrocarbons Including Benzene

This article describes the findings of a research study entitled, “Human Health Risk Assessment of Air Emissions from Development of Unconventional Natural Gas Resources”. In this study, the researchers of the Colorado School of Public Health aimed at assessing the contribution of hydraulic fracking or fracturing to air pollution, which in turn causes chronic as well as acute health problems to populations living around the drilling sites (ScienceDaily, 2012). The study findings based on a three year detailed observation indicate that the process of hydraulic fracking produces different harmful petroleum hydrocarbons including benzene, ethyl benzene, heptanes, octane, diethyl benzene, xylene, and toluene, which are released into the air around the wells. Furthermore, the results reveal that these chemicals pose non-cancer and cancer risks for those living near the gas drilling sites. More specifically, the non-cancer risks, which are associated with the exposure to xylenes, aliphatic hydrocarbons, and trimethylbenzenes, cause the greatest health impacts on people living closer to gas drilling sites or wells. These non-cancer health impacts may be anything from eye irritation to headaches, soar throat, or difficulties in breathing (ScienceDaily, 2012).

On the other hand, the researchers assessed the cancer risks among residents living closer to natural gas wells against those living far away. The results indicate that the main carcinogenic chemical causing the greatest health impacts, particularly lifelong excess cancer risks among the residents living closer to the wells is benzene. Generally, the process of hydraulic fracking involves the injection of various chemicals and water into drilled wells followed by a flow-back, which results in release of natural gas, geologic fluids, and hydrocarbons (ScienceDaily, 2012). Therefore, the report shows that people living nearer to the gas drilling sites are more vulnerable to non-cancer and cancer health risks compared to those living far away preferably within a distance of about a half-mile. On the other hand, despite the fact that this study lacks sufficient data regarding the emission profile for all the chemicals released during the processes of development of natural gas, the researchers conclude that the health risks involved in such processes are worth mentioning particularly in the current debates on the development of natural gas, which tend to focus on the contribution of hydraulic fracking to water pollution (ScienceDaily, 2012).

This article is very important scientifically and socially considering that it highlights significant scientific findings regarding the environment and public health in general. Therefore, this article targets the whole scientific community, especially the professionals in environmental sciences and public health. Here, it is important to note that this article provides the framework upon which future research studies can be initiated with the aim of studying the whole emission profile of chemicals released during hydraulic fracking besides assessing their impacts on the environment and the people living closer to the drilling sites. Most importantly, this article can go a long way in terms of future studies aimed at assessing the levels of exposure among the residents relative to area, personal and residential data. Moreover, this article serves as a starting point for future studies aimed at assessing the virulence of all chemicals released during the natural gas drilling processes.

On the other hand, the current study can aid in terms of guiding policy development in particular resource allocation and law enforcement in order to ensure that the populations-at-risk are protected against the negative health impacts related to various unconventional methods of the development of natural gas. Therefore, this article is important socially because it addresses the social welfare issues affecting the general populations, which face the risk of suffering from deleterious diseases such as cancer due to the industrial activities taking place in their midst. Overall, this article can go a long way in terms of policy formulation with regard to planning and housing arrangements in order to ensure that natural gas drilling sites do not pose health risks for residents.

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