Sunday, October 21, 2012

Focusing on Prevention – Mitigating Scenarios that Represent Public Health Risks

Opponents of gas development went to the NYS Officials armed with their list of 20 Reasons Summary Report as to why natural gas development should not go ahead. The list makes many assumptions. The biggest - the report does not take into account that a conclusive health assessment requires more than a portion of an exposure assessment.  

Risk assessments (health or environmental) are done to identify risk. This is the first and most important step in maintaining safe work-spaces and communities.

EPA Image/How much pollutant do people inhale over a specific period of time helps determines the potential or lack thereof of health effects

Missing from the report is a discussion on what has been done to improve the processes to control or eliminate the risk.  Leaving out these strategies creates an illusion that nothing is or has been done to mitigate the concerns raised by the exposure assessment.

Prevention is a strategy that is used daily. Hazards are defined, analyzed and situations that pose risk are targeted for mitigation and/or protective response plans are developed in the event when mitigation isn't possible (such emergency management plans).

The presence of chemicals at a location does not lead to a public health crisis.

Health issues can arise when the chemical/contaminant crosses the body barrier at a high enough concentration and a long enough time to elicit an effect (either chronic or acute). Translated:  A whiff of cigarette smoke does not automatically condemn you to life of cancer and other illnesses.  

EPA Image/Potential Health Problems Related to Chemical Exposure

Even if we take the worst case scenario, the “what if”; there are other issues at play that could affect the potential for a health problems to take effect. For one, the concentration of the released contaminant at the point where it comes in contact with the public depends on-
  •  media (what it travels through- air, water, soil etc.) 
  • alteration (biodegrade, bio transform, chemical reactions etc.) as it travels to the place where it will come in contact with the public
This means that the concentration of the contaminants will vary by location. The closer you are to the source, the higher the exposure hence the use of setbacks. If sets backs are unable to completely eliminate the chemical exposure, then there are health standards that are calculated and used protectively. 

The reaction of the contaminant in the body depends on -
  • again, the concentration
  • how the contaminant enters the body (inhaled, ingested etc.)
  • what the body does once exposed (eliminate, metabolize, etc.)
  • how long the exposure occurred
Simply put, being around a chemical/contaminant does not automatically make you sick.

Recommended reading:
 George King of Apache Energy’s Paper, Hydraulic Fracturing 101: What Every Representative, Environmentalist, Regulator, Reporter, Investor, University Researcher, Neighbor and Engineer Should Know About Estimating Frac Risk and Improving Frac Performance in Unconventional Gas and Oil Well.  

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