As a handful of anti-fossil fuel activists attempt to use blood tests as evidence of harmful impacts of oil and gas, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) is yet again putting on display their ability to engage with communities and respond directly to the concerns posed by residents with active field testing and science-based health information.

Tuesday during a Broomfield City Council meeting, it was revealed that CDPHE and Broomfield are forming a partnership monitor air quality in Broomfield near oil and gas operations. CDPHE is expected to deploy the department’s robust mobile air quality monitoring unit, a tool used frequently by the department throughout the state of Colorado.

The partnership would leverage CDPHE’s expertise in air quality sampling to provide updates on air monitoring activity with the intent of the City of Broomfield to provide this information to the public.

Though some claim that regulators don’t do enough when it comes to monitoring oil and gas activity, CDPHE’s track record shows just the opposite.

In fact, CDPHE has a fully equipped program, the Oil and Gas Health Information and Response (OGHIR) Program, which intakes reported concerns and responds by launching an investigation, sending CDPHE staff experts into the field to conduct further testing. Even anti-fracking activist Elizabeth Ewaskowitz, a mom from Erie who was recently interviewed by Denver7 about a VOC blood test she had performed on her son, told the Denver7 reporter that at the time she was surprised at the rapid response she received from state regulators:

“I think I was surprised at how quickly they followed up, so I have been in communication with several of them.”

This does not come as a surprise to us at EID given that CDPHE promotes this program in local concerned communities and furthermore makes the OGHIR results publicly available on its website.

Earlier this year, EID released a health report that compiled much of CDPHE’s monitoring activity.

CDPHE’s Oil and Gas Health Information and Response (OGHIR) Program has a successful track record of investigating complaints put forward by citizens, deploying staff into the field to conduct further testing. EID’s recent health report highlights this program’s most recent compilation of findings from FY2016-17:

“[T]he report tracked health concerns reported by Colorado residents, with 50 percent of the self-reported concerns in the state originating in Weld County. Responding to stakeholders, air sampling was conducted and reports provided for 6 Tier III responses.

“Six Tier III community investigations, which included community air sampling, accounted for 65% of reported concerns,’ according to OGHIR.

“Five of the six reports included Weld County sampling data.

“OGHIR deployed the Colorado Air Monitoring Mobile Laboratory (CAMML) to three of the investigations, resulting in approximately 500 sampling hours. Each hourly sample includes about 1000 individual data points,’ the authors explained.

“In general, the data collected from air sampling investigations have shown low risk for short- and long-term health effects to people in communities reporting concerns,’ the authors found.”

Just this last year, CDPHE analyzed more than 10,000 air samples in the state with “substantial” oil and natural gas operations and found that air emission levels were “safe,” even for sensitive populations.

EID’s health report recounts air quality investigations looking into VOC levels in areas with extensive oil and gas development like Triple Creek, Firestone, and Erie – the results of these investigations found air concentrations to be “below short and long-term health-based reference values,” of “low potential for health effects due to this short-term exposure,” and “unable to document conditions that suggest an ongoing health hazard at this time,” respectively.

CDPHE’s analysis shows low-risk air sample readings, findings that stand in stark contrast to claims made by activists opposed to the state’s oil and gas industry.

In addition to the department’s OGHIR program, CDPHE has proven to be a reliable and collaborative partner for local governments to call upon when addressing community health concerns surrounding oil and gas development. For example, on the west slope, CDPHE continues to partner with Garfield County to conduct an ongoing air quality assessment. The most recent results of this collaborative air quality sampling and monitoring project continue to show emissions to be protective of public health.

CDPHE recently engaged with the Town of Erie, providing an overview of its OGHIR program at a recent Board of Trustees meeting after residents began requesting blood tests to measure VOCs. The visiting CDPHE official addressed questions surrounding these VOC blood tests, taking the opportunity to explain the department’s position:

“Another one of the reasons we don’t suggest people to do that [VOC blood test] is the more accurate way to assess exposure is through the air quality sampling, so that’s kind of our shop and that’s what we would prefer to do is respond to these complaints of health symptoms and potentially do air quality sampling.”

Conclusion

Though activists continue to push to find new tools to try and prove oil and gas development is negatively impacting people’s health, CDPHE mission will not change as the department continues to protect the health of Colorado’s people and the quality of its environment.