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Texas Report Shows No Evidence of Health Problems in Town of Dish

The Texas Department of State Health Services issued its report on results of blood and urine samples taken from 28 residents of the tiny town of Dish, in Denton County, Texas. The report concludes that there is no evidence from those tests that the residents have elevated levels of airborne toxins in their bodies. 

As has been widely reported, the Mayor of Dish has been complaining that oil and gas operations around the town have resulted in exposure to airborne contaminants and health problems among citizens in the town. The town commissioned an air quality survey by a company named Wolf Eagle Environmental, which reported in December 2009 that the town “continues to show high levels of atmospheric VOCs known to have both carcinogenic and neurotoxin capabilities in concentrations that exceed TCEQ ESLs. High atmospheric concentractions of Methane were confirmed at various locations in both the August 2009 and December 2009 Air Quality Studies performed by Wolf Eagle.” The town also conducted a health survey of its citizens, and the survey results were analyzed by Wilma Subra, a Louisiana chemist, for Earthworks’ Oil and Gas Accountability Project. Ms. Subra’s report concluded that a significant number of residents reported health effects associated with toxics measured in excess of TCEQ screening levels, and it recommended that the Texas Department of State Health Services (TxDSHS) test the blood of community members.

TxDSHS reported that, although elevated levels of volatile organic compounds were found in some of the blood samples, “the pattern of VOC values was not consistent with a community-wide exposure to airborne contaminants, such as those that might be associated with natural gas drilling operations,” and could have come from other sources such as cigarette smoking, metal cleaners, degreaser and lubricants. TxDSHS also tested water samples from residents’ homes and found one home with an elevated level of a chemical derived from chlorine added to drinking water. The TxDSHS report cautioned that its investigation was limited to a one-time sampling event, that VOC’s stay in the body for only a short time, so the tests could reflect only recent exposures and not historical exposures.

Mayor Tillman, interviewed by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, commented that he does not think the results of the tests should be taken to assume that drilling in the rest of the Barnett Shale is being conducted safely. “He is convinced that gas companies were severly polluting the air in Dish but cleaned up their act when they saw state regulators were starting to take an interest. “They’ve done something and I don’t know what it is and I don’t care,’ Tillman said. ‘All I care is the air is getting cleaner.'”

Gene Powell, Editor of the Powell Barnett Shale Newsletter, estimated that the tests conducted to investigate Mayor Tillman’s complaints have cost the State $400,000, or $6,667 per resident. 

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