TOXIC CHEMICALS RELEASED DURING OIL & GAS OPERATIONS
Chronic arsenic exposure can cause damage to blood vessels, a sensation of "pins and needles" in hands and feet, darkening and thickening of the skin, and skin redness. It is a known human carcinogen, and can cause cancer of skin, lungs, bladder, liver, kidney and prostate.
Hydrogen sulfide has been linked to irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat, difficulty in breathing, headaches, dizziness, nausea, and vomiting. Low-level exposure might also lead to poor attention span, poor memory, and impaired motor function. Short-term exposure at high concentrations can lead to loss of consciousness and death.
Mercury can permanently damage the brain, kidneys, and developing fetus and may result in tremors, changes in vision or hearing, and memory problems. Even in low doses, mercury may affect an infant's development, delaying walking and talking, shortening attention span and causing learning disabilities.
Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons
Several of the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) that can be found in crude oil have caused tumors in laboratory animals and are considered possible or probable human carcinogens. Studies of people have found that individuals exposed for long periods to mixtures that contain PAHs can also develop cancer. In addition, animal tests have found reproductive problems and birth defects.
Volatile Organic Compounds
Acetone can cause nose, throat, lung, and eye irritation; headaches; light-headedness; and confusion. In animals it has been linked to kidney, liver, and nerve damage, and increased birth defects.
Benzene is a known human carcinogen and causes leukemia.
Ethylbenzene can cause dizziness, throat and eye irritation, respiratory problems, fatigue and headaches. It has been linked to tumors and birth defects in animals, as well as to damage in the nervous system, livers and kidneys.
Toluene can cause fatigue, confusion, weakness, memory loss, nausea, hearing loss, central nervous system damage, and may cause kidney damage. It is also known to cause birth defects and reproductive harm.
Xylenecan cause headaches, dizziness, confusion, balance changes, irritation of the skin, eyes, nose, and throat, breathing difficulty, memory difficulties, stomach discomfort, and possibly changes in the liver and kidneys.
Radium is a known human carcinogen, causing bone, liver, and breast cancer.
Radon can cause an increased incidence of lung diseases such as emphysema, as well as lung cancer.
Why don’t we hear even more stories about illnesses related to oil and gas operations?
Oil and gas companies may claim there is a lack of data proving that industry pollution is a cause of illness. While more research needs to be conducted, important information is available. There are now more wells than ever before, and more of them near where people live. Chemical poisoning is notorious for resulting in nonspecific signs or symptoms that resemble other common diseases, immediate symptoms might be nonexistent or mild despite the risk of long-term severe health effects, and physicians may not recognize the connection between illness and the oil and gas operations.
In a 2004 program sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, two medical toxicologists from the National Center for Environmental Health discussed the challenges of recognizing illness stemming from chemical exposure, including:
• Chemicals do not always cause acute and obvious health effects. Immediate symptoms of chemical exposures might be nonexistent or mild despite the risk for long-term effects. Because of this lag time, it may be difficult for us to recognize the exposure source leading to the illness.
• Another obstacle that could lead to difficulty in recognition might be exposure to multiple chemical agents.
• Chemical poisoning is notorious for resulting in nonspecific signs or symptoms that resemble other common diseases.
Physicians might be less familiar with recognition and treatment of illness related to chemical agents simply because illness from most chemicals is just not that common or at least not recognized as often as it occurs. In addition, some individuals choose not to share their stories, especially in communities with local economies dependent on the oil and gas industry. Others move away, sometimes with their homes purchased by energy companies and with signed agreements that prohibit them from telling their stories. And still others have given up on trying to call attention to this matter. One man recently stated at a public meeting, “…if few people are complaining about drilling these days, it's because they've given up after being ignored for so long.”
The above information was presented in October 2007 by Amy Mall of the NRDC. She spoke before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, chaired by Henry Waxman. You can read Ms. Mall's remarks in their entirety here.