NEW MEXICO AND COLORADO: Toxic Soup of Harmful Chemicals Found in the Air Near Schools and Homes in the Four Corners
Recent air sampling conducted by citizens of the Four Corners region has found harmful levels of cancer-causing chemicals in the region’s air.
For the first time, neighbors of natural gas development projects in northwest New Mexico and southwest Colorado have joined together with the San Juan Citizens Alliance and an international air monitoring non-profit organization, Global Community Monitor, to test the air they are breathing. The independent air testing program, known as the “Bucket Brigade,”empowers pollution-affected residents to take scientifically credible samples using U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approved methods and laboratories.
An air sample was taken near Basin Disposal, Inc. in Bloomfield, New Mexico where several natural gas refineries and processing facilities are located. Air samples were also taken near a regulated Key Energy natural gas surface waste disposal facility on Crouch Mesa in New Mexico and at a third location adjacent to a natural gas well and compressor site at Cow Canyon in La Plata County, Colorado. The three air samplings detected more than 20 different toxic chemicals.
“Acrylonitrile, benzene, methylene chloride and ethylbenzene are carcinogens found in the air samples. Levels of these chemicals exceed the level determined to cause an increased risk of cancer,” stated Mark Chernaik, Ph.D., an independent environmental health expert retained to review the sample results.
Local communities have had long standing concerns that they have been breathing a mix of harmful chemicals near gas development projects; now these communities know those are wellfounded concerns that the public is being exposed to toxics. Basin Disposal is located approximately one mile north of the Naaba Ani Elementary School.
“We have been concerned for years about what is in the emissions from natural gas facilities in proximity to our neighborhoods and schools,” said Mike Eisenfeld, New Mexico Energy Coordinator for the San Juan Citizens Alliance. “Simple, yet scientifically credible air samples, have now verified that toxic emissions are being released in our community from natural gas facilities. If we can do simple air sampling, why aren’t regulatory permitting agencies such as EPA, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, and New Mexico Environment Department/New Mexico Oil Conservation Division doing air sampling of facilities that they permit in our region?”
“We are greatly troubled about human exposure to air toxics coming from natural gas facilities without adequate monitoring” said Josh Joswick, Colorado Energy Issues Organizer for the San Juan Citizens Alliance. “This is a wake-up call that more air monitoring needs to occur to assess emissions from natural gas facilities on individual and aggregate levels.”
“These samples are seriously disturbing to everyone who has seen them,” said Global Community Monitor Program Coordinator Jessica Hendricks. “We do not usually see this many chemicals in individual samples. This sampling suggests that natural gas facilities have far more air quality problems than regulators have led us to believe.”
“We know there are win-win solutions available to solve these problems, yet industry is clearly not using them,” said Tweeti Blancett, a rancher in San Juan County, New Mexico. “The technology is readily available for industry to capture dangerous air emissions from many oil and gas operations. In many cases, these air pollution control methods are very economical for companies to adopt. If companies do not adopt these methods voluntarily, they should be required to do so to protect human health and the environment”
With over 35,000 natural gas wells, and associated compression and refining in the Four Corners region, air quality is a significant issue that must be addressed. The public deserves protection for toxic chemical and regulators must address this problem.