Colorado’s health department, in its first large-scale review of research on how living near oil and gas drilling affects health, concluded that there is, at best, limited evidence for harm.
In a report published online in February, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment found, overall, few indicators of health dangers. Air-quality monitoring did not find elevated levels of dangerous chemicals. Studies on the health of people living near oil and gas sites generally did not find strong evidence that they were more likely to suffer health problems than the general population.
“At this time,” the report’s authors wrote in a summary, “results from exposure and health effect studies do not indicate the need for immediate public health action.”
But the report does recommend further monitoring and study. That is, in part, because the department’s review of research found limited evidence for some types of problems.
A few studies from across the country have reported that people living near oil and gas sites are more likely to experience skin irritation and rashes or to have worsening asthma. The new health department report notes that those studies are “low-quality” or “medium-quality,” and that the evidence is not conclusive.
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“Limited evidence means modest scientific findings that support an association, but there are significant limitations,” the report’s authors wrote.
The report also found mixed evidence for whether oil and gas development is associated with poor birth outcomes, certain kinds of childhood cancer, migraines and other problems. Mixed evidence means there is data both supporting and refuting a connection.
“This report evaluates the existing science about whether you’re at risk if you live near oil and gas operations,” CDPHE executive director Dr. Larry Wolk said in a statement. “Going forward, we will continue to evaluate health risks using more comprehensive, relevant data currently being collected.”
CDPHE conducted the research review based on a task force recommendation in 2015. As drilling has inched nearer to homes — especially in northern Colorado — concerns have grown that oil and gas development could be a public-health hazard.
A study by University of Colorado researchers published earlier this month found a possible link between drilling and a specific kind of childhood cancer. But Wolk looked skeptically upon that study’s results, as he did on the results of a previous study by the same CU researchers that saw a possible association with drilling and congenital heart defects.
CDPHE is working on another study about the public health risks of oil and gas development, using Colorado State University data to examine emissions. That study should be finished next year.