UPDATE (7/3/18, 10:40 AM EST): Denver7 is unable to comment on CDPHE’s presentation to the Erie Board of Trustees in June because they were unaware of it. They are considering future coverage now that it has come to their attention. They did note they have reached out to CDPHE during their initial story.

Original Post

During a public hearing last week, Colorado state health regulators presented to the Erie Board of Trustees and recommended against the use of volatile organic compound (VOC) blood testing. The warning about the reliability of such tests comes as a handful of anti-fossil fuel activists in the community have attempted to use blood tests as evidence of harmful impacts of oil and gas in the community.

Recall that the issue of VOC blood tests took center stage last month when one local news outlet reported on an Erie resident calling attention to results of a blood test of her son that showed elevated numbers that she attributed to oil and gas operations in her community. At the time, EID noted several concerns about the blood test and the reporting, including that the person that conducted the test was not a licensed doctor. Denver7 did do a follow-up on their original story responding to our criticism, but the story only led to even more questions.

So now that state health regulators have spoken directly to elected officials in the community at an open meeting, we would expect that Denver7 would want to share this key information with its viewers. More than a week after the meeting, however, they have not. We reached out to Denver7, but so far they have not responded.

Meanwhile, here is what the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) explained at the hearing:

“We actually don’t recommend that citizens [do] blood tests. They are technically very complex and difficult test to perform. Those VOC blood tests generally only are able to capture very near term or very recent exposures and they can’t really tell you where the exposures are coming from. They can just kind of give you a level compared to population level data, so we don’t advocate that citizens do that.”

CDPHE also told Erie elected officials that accurate data must be collected and disseminated by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), adding that they have received blood tests from concerned residents, but none administered through a clinical toxicologist.

Instead of focusing on tests that can be impacted by various external factors, CDPHE instead advocated for air quality testing to get an accurate read of emissions and VOC levels in the area in question.

“Another one of the reasons we don’t suggest people to do that 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.”

Indeed, CDPHE is constantly conducting active monitoring of air quality throughout the state. Earlier this year, EID released a health report that catalogued much of CDPHE’s monitoring activity. Over the past year, the department 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.

The report also chronicles testing on air quality and VOC levels in places like Triple Creek, Firestone, and even Erie, finding 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 Oil and Gas Health Information and Response (OGHIR) Program has a successful track record of investigating complaints put forward by residents, and putting staff on site to conduct further testing. EID’s recent health report notes of 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.”

In fact, Elizabeth Ewaskowitz told Denver 7 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.”

Bottom Line

Health concerns are to be taken seriously and paid due attention and consideration. Colorado’s state regulators have shown their willingness to be not only responsive to the public’s concerns, but also actively monitor air quality and conduct testing in an objective way that relies on hard data. It’s unfortunate that the media was available to help promulgate unsubstantiated claims, but weren’t present when health experts responded.