A new report from the Clean Air Task Force shows how oil and gas operations contribute to the childhood asthma epidemic. Three quarters of a million asthma attacks each summer result from the air pollution emitted by the oil and gas industry – and there are solutions readily at hand that could sharply curtail this pollution, if only industry would implement them.
Community members living in and around shale plays across the country have long raised their voices about the health impacts they are experiencing from living close to this burgeoning industry. But the new report shows something a bit more surprising. Gas drilling affects the health of kids both close to and far from shale plays. (Tweet this) Cities with the most people are the most impacted by oil and gas pollution, because there are more little breathers whose lungs are vulnerable to air pollution, and because rates of asthma are higher in cities.
According to the new report, here are the top five metropolitan areas by number of asthma attacks attributable to oil and gas pollution.
- Dallas Fort Worth: 45,880 asthma attacks
- New York: 25,793 asthma attacks
- Washington DC: 25,173 asthma attacks
- Houston: 21,712 asthma attacks
- Denver: 20,466 asthma attacks
I’ll admit I was surprised to find my city, Washington, DC, near the top of the list of US cities most affected by this kind of pollution. My city is already failing little lungs. The American Lung Association’s 2016 State of the Air report gives Washington DC an “F” for smog. More than 16,000 children in my city have asthma. Our city has asthma rates higher than the national average. Adding preventable pollution to the air pollution burden is a direct affront to the thousands of families struggling with asthma already.
How is air pollution from oil and gas operations causing asthma attacks even in areas far from gas wells and oil production? Here’s how it works:
- Natural gas wells, valves, compressor stations, pipelines, separators, dehydrators, and pipelines release air pollution including volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and methane.
- This pollution can travel hundreds of miles on wind currents.
- The pollution combines with heat and sunlight to form smog, or ground level ozone, a powerful lung irritant.
- Smog triggers asthma attacks, sends people to the hospital, and causes kids to miss school.
- Many of these smog-triggered asthma attacks happen far from the oil and gas operations that caused the pollution.
In order to curtail this dangerous pollution, the oil and gas industry should be required to limit air pollution.
Readily-available technologies and practices can dramatically cut methane emissions, helping to safeguard against climate change, while also reducing emissions of smog-forming air pollutants. We need strong federal safeguards to limit pollution from the oil and gas industry — methane, toxic air pollution, and pollutants that form ozone smog — to keep our communities healthy.