The West Virginia legislature has been advised to step up environmental monitoring at natural gas drilling sites, after a recent study linked a potential carcinogen to that process, according a public broadcasting report.
The study was conducted by Chairman of the Department of Occupational and Environmental Health at West Virginia University, Michael McCawley, who checked air quality at seven drilling sites over four months. The sites were evaluated at several stages of drilling, from set-up to fracking to when the gas pipelines were installed.
In some cases, McCawley discovered dust with heightened levels of benzene, which can cause anemia and has been linked to cancer. According to the EPA, benzene typically enters the atmosphere through exhaust emissions.
In one instance, the testing showed benzene levels of 85 parts per billion. National standards require workers to have respiratory protection at 100 parts per billion or more.
McCawley's study was conducted at the request of the state Department of Environmental Protection, as part of the state's Horizontal Well Control Act of 2011. The law required a study by July 1, 2013 to advise lawmakers on whether air pollution at drill sites should be regulated and monitored.
The recently released study advised that companies should provide monitoring for drill sites near houses, schools or hospitals.
McCawley said he's planning a follow-up study, with the goal of providing more information about the health impacts of gas drilling in the northern panhandle of West Virginia.