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Huerfano County Health Assessment, part 2

by Bill Knowles
On Nov. 17, the World Journal published part 1 of this series which is examining county readiness to respond in case of an emergency related to energy exploration and the gradual industrialization of the county.
WALSENBURG — As oil and gas exploration expands across the state, a group of scientists in Paonia, CO have been watching and studying the impacts of industrialization on residents in the mountain west for over ten years. They have reached a conclusion: exposure to industrial chemicals isn’t good for the human being.
This is why people living in areas that are experiencing oil and gas development have been calling for tighter regulation on energy extraction companies. Dale Lyons, a career nurse and a resident of Gardner, has approached the County Commission, the Planning and Zoning Commission, and the Hospital District Board to request that regulations to help guard the health, safety and well being of county residents be put into the county’s land use guide.
In her statement to the county commissioners Lyons said, “I feel quite strongly that [at] the introduction to our community of the oil and gas industry, regulations must be mandated to safeguard the health of our citizens. Huerfano County has been ranked the unhealthiest county in the state in county health the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Protecting our air, water, and environmental quality is of vital importance.”
Among the list of diseases currently affecting Huerfanos are high blood pressure, diabetes, allergies, high cholesterol, upper respiratory infections, chronic airway obstruction. According to billing codes used at Spanish Peaks Regional Health Center, these are among the most common reasons to see a local physician
Lyons continued, “Pneumonia, congestive heart failure and obstructive lung disease including asthma and emphysema are among the group of diseases that are exacerbated by environmental conditions,”
Wih around 38,000 active oil and gas wells in the state and more being drilled, the Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) reports that there have been over 43,000 reported spills. With seven spills being reported every five days, the possibility of exposure to highly toxic and carcinogenic industrial chemicals is increasing for local property owners living near well pads.
After research into the intrusion of chemicals used in the extraction of natural gas and oil, and the products that are manufactured from oil and gas, many scientists, including endocrinologists, have documented the global pollution caused by modern industrialization down to the microscopic level.
An endocrinologist is a person who studies the endocrine system. According to a definition found at the website, the endocrine system is an “exquisitely balanced system of glands and hormones that regulates such vital functions as body growth, response to stress, sexual development and behavior, production and utilization of insulin, rate of metabolism, intelligence and behavior, and the ability to reproduce. It also regulates metabolism, tissue function and mood. Anyone who has had difficulty with their thyroid gland understands the importance of the endocrine system to health.
Scientists have found that 25 percent of the hundreds of chemicals used in drilling operations can cause cancer, 37 percent can disrupt the endocrine system and 40 to 50 percent can affect the nervous, immune and cardiovascular systems.
Some of the problems that have been found include autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, learning disabilities, Alzheimer’s Disease, breast cancer, prostate cancer and obesity.
In Lyons’ proposal for regulations to protect the health of county residents are rules looking at air quality, soil quality and water quality, noise pollution, traffic and transportation, and community wellness.
Air Quality
One of the air quality proposals being advanced is the use of electrical generators rather then diesel powered generators at drill sites. Also proposed is the disclosure to hospital and emergency workers of all chemicals used on the well pads and the establishment of a system for immediate response to odor complaints.
The use of an effective and validated low emissions flow back process is recommended for all well completions as well as a route production tank venting emissions through a volatile organic compound (VOC) combustor operated with auto-igniters on all well pads as per the State Ozone Action Plan. A plan detailing these recommendations is found at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment website.
It is recommneded that an air monitoring program for all well completion activities be set up and all air monitoring results be made available to the public. These are a few of the 17 recommendations for establishing air quality.
Water and Soil quality
Of the 12 recommendations, three look at soil, five deal with water and the remaining four are a combination of both soil quality and water quality recommendations.
The proposed regulations call for an immediate report to be filed with the COGCC in the event of a spill of one or more barrels of chemicals. The notification should take place within 24 hours along with maintenance of spill quantities, clean-up activities and preventative measures taken to avoid future spills. The proposal calls for immediate notification of the COGCC if water sources are impacted.
The energy companies should conduct baseline soil and surface water testing and install at least one up-gradient and two down-gradient groundwater monitoring wells at each well pad. And there should be monthly monitoring of the well site groundwater wells for the parameters specified in the recommendations found in the COGCC Table 910-1 which details concentrations for water and soil.
Community Wellness
The proposal calls for the development of industrial haul routes away from school routes and frequently traveled routes used by the community. It also calls for a plan to respond by the community’s emergency responders and residents that includes notification and communications systems, evacuation routes, plans for evacuating schools and the assisted living facility at the Veteran’s Care Home.
Maps showing pipelines, shut-off valves, and well pads as well as identifying air intakes at the schools, assisted living facility, and recreation centers should be made prior to any activity. The emergency response plan should be posted at the sheriff’s department, fire department, all responding hospitals, and on the county website.
All primary and secondary evacuation routes should be marked and quarterly tests of emergency notification systems should be held.
According to Lyons, the residents of Huerfano County need to be protected from the industrialization of the county and the county commission should be paying attention to the safety, health, and well being of its citizens.
Lyons emphasized her point, “Having been witness to the torment of illness, I cannot stress upon this board enough to act in the best interest of our citizens by giving these suggestions serious consideration. Witnessing, with humility, the miracle of birth and the agony of death, I implore you [county commissioners] to consider, in earnest, these measures and not act in haste to pass regulations that may not go far enough for citizen health.”

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