Benzene: What you don’t know CAN harm you!

When I first became aware of the dangers of fracking, I was oblivious to the role Benzene played in this danger.  Benzene is a colorless, sweet smelling chemical that evaporates rapidly when in contact with air.  C6H6.  It sounds pretty harmless until you explore the health effects and realize how pervasive the issue is if you live near a fossil fuel extraction site or refinery.

What are the risks from exposure to Benzene? There are known cancer risks especially leukemias and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.  Benzene is also known to cause blood and immune system disorders.  Benzene is harmful to our bone marrow and thus causes anemia, bleeding issues, and inability to fight infections.   A study also shows that exposure to benzene can cause changes in sperm that can cause birth defects.

The Denver Post in November stated:  “Oil and gas operations continue to fuel Front Range air pollution, and rules clamping down on emissions have had little effect in the past three years, a new study says. Air samples from residential backyards in Erie and Longmont and near wells contained levels of chemicals as much as 77 times above regional background levels.  Ambient levels of benzene, a known carcinogen, were higher at the state’s air monitor in Platteville than in Houston, home to some of the nation’s biggest refineries. “

Here in Longmont, where I live, a well near Trail Ridge Middle school had benzene levels up to 100 times the state limits when ground water was tested.   A study on air quality in Eire, Longmont and Platteville showed pollution from fracking in all three towns.  The researchers said that the benzene levels “could be detrimental to human health if chronic lifetime exposure should occur.”

An article is US News reported: “The most significant find in the information we requested was an inter-office memo on an investigation of a saltwater disposal facility in Karnes County. The report showed investigators found benzene levels at several locations around the facility as high as 88 ppbv (parts per billion) That doesn’t sound like a high level, unless you consider the fact many experts say you should not breathe air containing just 5 ppbv.”

In a study by ShaleTest, Project Playground, levels of benzene found at several test locations (at playgrounds where fracking was nearby),  was noted to be above recommended levels.  “ This particularly noteworthy as benzene is a known carcinogen (based on evidence from studies in both people and lab animals)” The study voiced concerns that the levels set for the compounds found were for workers who were exposed 5 days a week for 8 hours, not continually and not in combination with other pollutants as seen at the study sites.

The other chemicals usually found in combination with Benzene at fracking sites, Toluene, Ethyl benzene, and Xylene also have known health effects ranging from brain and nervous system depression, fetal and developmental disorders, endocrine disruption, and kidney and liver damage.

Research studying fracking sites in 5 states (including Colorado) where elevated levels of benzene and formaldehyde were found stated: “This is a significant public health risk,” said lead author David O. Carpenter, MD, in an accompanying interview, “Cancer has a long latency, so you’re not seeing an elevation in cancer in these communities. But five, 10, 15 years from now, elevation in cancer is almost certain to happen.”

My last question is: Why do we subject our children, our families and our friends to this pollution.  It is time to stop.  Breathing Benzene, Toluene, Ethylbenzene and Xylene is not acceptable and we must stop using our citizens as lab rats.

About Karen Dike

I retired in 2013 after working for over 40 years as a Registered Nurse. I worked mainly in the critical care areas as an Administrator. After I moved back to Colorado, to be near my grandchildren, I discovered how fracking was decimating this beautiful state, damaging communities and affecting health of the citizens. I am now spending my retirement fighting this reckless, dirty industry.

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