Analysis: Oil Companies Used 45 Million Pounds of Air Toxic Chemicals in Los Angeles Area Over Past Year
Air Pollutants From Fracking, Acidizing Threaten Public Health, Report Says
LOS ANGELES— Oil companies over the past year used more than 45 million pounds of dangerous chemicals in Los Angeles and Orange counties that have a history of escaping into the air and posing serious health risks to people, according to a new analysis. The data analysis examined “air toxic” chemicals used in selected oil and gas extraction methods monitored by the South Coast Air Quality Management District.
The analysis, conducted by four nonprofit health and environmental organizations, found that the oil industry has employed at least 44 different air toxic chemicals in hundreds of fracking, acidizing and gravel packing jobs in the two counties since June of 2013, when the air district began requiring well operators to disclose chemicals used in unconventional operations.
More than half these chemical-intensive events occurred in oil wells within 1,500 feet of a home, school, or medical facility. Neither federal nor state regulators have required oil and gas companies to limit toxic air pollution, even for wells in populated areas.
Hydrofluoric acid, methanol, crystalline silica and formaldehyde were the most frequently used air toxics — chemicals that can escape into the air and cause illness and death. Formaldehyde, for example, harms the eyes and respiratory system and is classified as a cancer-causing substance by the California Air Resources Board and the International Agency for Research on Cancer.
The new report — issued by the Center for Biological Diversity, Physicians for Social Responsibility – Los Angeles, Communities for a Better Environment, and the Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment — also found that oil companies have concealed the names of chemicals used 5,050 times by claiming the information is a “trade secret” despite state law requiring the full disclosure of those chemicals.
“Oil companies’ own records show they’re recklessly using thousands of tons of air toxic chemicals in some of California’s most heavily populated communities,” said the Center’s Hollin Kretzmann. “This is the air that 13 million people breathe every day. We need to stop this dangerous oil extraction immediately to protect the air we breathe.”
Los Angeles-area physicians and public health advocates say the report highlights the threats posed by extreme oil production techniques in California.
“We understand the terrible health impacts caused by the chemicals being used to extract oil in Los Angeles and Orange counties,” said Angela Johnson Meszaros, general counsel at Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles. “Given the massive volume of chemicals being used so close to where people live, work, and go to school, there is significant likelihood that people will be harmed by these chemicals. We routinely see reports of leaks, accidents, and injury associated with oil extraction.”
“Children, the elderly, and people who are already sick are especially at risk from exposures to air toxics,” said James Dahlgren, M.D., a Los Angeles-area physician. “Data collected over the years strongly supports the need for special attention to be paid to these populations because they tend to have reactions to chemicals at lower levels than the general adult population.”
The oil industry has reported 477 hydraulic fracturing, acidizing and gravel packing operations in Los Angeles and Orange counties over the past year, with acidization being the most commonly used technique.
“Residents, including many vulnerable members of our society like elders, the ill, children and even infants, who are exposed to the daily impacts of oil drilling as well as other forms of industrial pollution, rely on public health and environmental agencies to not only require that this information be made public, but to also monitor the emissions coming from these reported events,” said Yana Garcia, a staff attorney and environmental justice advocate with Communities for a Better Environment.
Today’s report provides further evidence of the need for a halt to well stimulation and drilling to protect air, water, and health in Los Angeles. On February 28, the L.A. City Council voted 10-0 in favor of this commonsense measure and directed the City Attorney to draft such an ordinance.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 775,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.
Physicians for Social Responsibility has been working for more than 50 years to create a healthy, just and peaceful world for both the present and future generations.
Communities for a Better Environment is a nonprofit environmental justice organization whose mission is to empower low-income communities and communities of color to achieve environmental health and justice through local transformation.
Founded in 1989, the Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment is an environmental justice organization that uses collective action and the law to support communities of color that bear the brunt of environmental hazards. With offices in Delano and San Francisco, California, CRPE represents communities and works directly with them to achieve their goals.