In February, Colorado State University played host to the Medical Symposium on Health Effects of Oil & Gas Development in Colorado, which featured multiple speakers in the scientific, legal and health communities. On Sunday, Aug. 18, The Lookout Alliance, In partnership with the Colorado branch of Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR), showed video recordings of the symposium at the Boulder County Public Library.
Presenters included Dr. Beth Ewaskowitz and Dr. Detlev Helmig. Last month, Helmig gave an in-depth presentation at The Left Hand Grange in Niwot on the impact that oil and gas production has on Boulder County’s air quality. His findings explained the myriad negative aspects that fracking in Weld County has, even across county lines.
Ewaskowitz’s presentation focused on Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) testing and sought to analyze health impacts while investigating the credibility of VOC blood testing offered by Genova Diagnostics.
Ewaskowitz, who has a PhD in pharmacology, lives in Erie, with her family, but recently sought to move further away from fracking operations. She believed that Boulder County’s five-year moratorium would prevent fracking operations from encroaching across the county line and found a new construction home not far from her previous residence.
After purchasing the home, she found out that her son’s school in Erie was very close to a fracking site. Ewaskowitz was deeply disturbed by the proximity of the well but, before making any big decisions, decided to do a scientific investigation of her own.
Ewaskowitz began to research oil and gas development and decided to order a blood test on her son before the drilling of the Erie well took place. She expected his VOC levels to be low or zero prior to the start of this project. Ewaskowitz planned to order VOC compound blood test after the drilling was underway, and compare the findings, but, as this scientist and mother so candidly puts it, “The problem that we ran into was that I didn’t know what I didn’t know.”
Ewaskowitz was shocked to see the results of the first test, indicating that her son’s levels of VOC compounds were in the 80th percentile for benzene and ethylbenzene. Ewaskowitz now had a new objective - to figure out the source of her son’s high VOC levels.
After meticulous research, she discovered that high VOC levels in the blood can be generated by new construction, indoor air quality, proximity to highways, gas stations or industrial projects. She ordered an indoor air quality test of her home and eliminated this option based upon the results. Her home was 10 miles from I-25 and her son was not often around gas stations and their pumps. When she began to look at fracking as an option, Ewaskowitz discovered that her son lives and plays within a one-mile radius of 158 wells, of which 72 are active.
With these results and information in hand, Ewaskowitz testified at a Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission meeting in Denver on April 30, 2018. She presented the results from the VOC compound test and waited for a response.
Eventually, the Colorado Department of Public Health disputed certain aspects of the test, namely the treatment method, or lack thereof, for the rubber stopper that capped the test tube. “As we continued to talk for several days, they took issue with the diagnostic method that was used by Genova Diagnostics. At first, I felt that they were trying to poke holes in this, to find some way to explain it to make it go away, discard it.”
Ewaskowitz knew she needed to look into the CDPHE’s concerns by comparing the methods from the CDC and Genova Diagnostics. She found that the CDC methods for VOC testing and the Genova Diagnostic testing differed in a few distinct ways, including in the way they treat the rubber test tube stoppers. “They (the CDC) feel that the rubber stopper in this vacuum tube has the potential to off-gas, to an extent that they feel that there is a need for a special cleaning method...that’s able to prevent some of that contamination.”
She spoke with multiple scientists unaffiliated with the CDC and Genova Diagnostics that also perform VOC testing and was told that the rubber stopper was not an issue. But the CDPHE refused to accept her rebuttal.
But there may be a silver lining. Ewaskowitz has uncovered a possible solution. t may be possible for the CDPHE to request use of the CDC labs to conduct tests that follow up on environmental concerns. Ewaskowitz explained that if the CDPHE does ever decide to move forward with this process, it would most likely test a subset of people. “As for my family, we’re not looking at moving right now, until this is better understood,” she said. “And I’ve been asked that before, ‘Will you move?’ but here’s my question, where?”
For more information on The Lookout Alliance, including upcoming presentations, visit their Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/lookoutallianceboulder.