Report: Residents of North Texas Town not at More Risk for Cancer

May 14, 2010

Despite concerns about natural gas drilling, residents in one small Texas town don’t have higher levels of cancer-causing contaminants in their blood than the rest of the nation, state health officials have said.

Dish residents were tested after Texas environmental regulators reported extremely high levels of cancer-causing benzene at two natural gas wells and elevated levels at 19 more sites in North Texas.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality had tested the air over one of the nation’s biggest natural gas fields, the 5,000-square-mile Barnett Shale. Most of the 94 sites tested had small amounts or no harmful chemicals, and the readings at the two worst sites – both near Dish – were caused by mechanical problems companies fixed quickly, the TCEQ said.

The Texas Department of State Health Services’ report was based on results of blood samples taken in January from more than two dozen residents of Dish, about 30 miles north of Fort Worth.

Health officials said the results indicated Dish residents’ exposure to contaminants was similar to the rest of the U.S. population. The study did not determine the specific sources of exposure, they said.

But Bill Sciscoe, a Dish town commissioner, said that health officials acknowledged residents had elevated levels but “stretched the results of their study.” He said the message that residents should not worry about gas drilling matches that of the state’s environmental commission and Texas Railroad Commission.

He said the three agencies “now speak with one voice telling Texans everywhere that toxins in your air and water, hundreds of times (greater than) the EPA short-term and long-term exposure levels, will not harm you or your children.”

“My open statement to the citizens of north Texas is, ‘Educate yourself. Trust no one with the health, safety and well being of your family, your community and your state. Hold every public official accountable and shine the light of truth on every one suspect of being less than honest.’ Come to Dish, insist that your community leaders come to Dish and learn from us. Do not let this happen to you and your family.”

Dish residents had been worried since 2005, when five gas companies opened an unmanned compressor complex. People started complaining about the noise and smell, and some folks started suffering health problems.

The mayor of Dish filed complaints with the state, and residents in other cities called to raise concerns about gas drilling. More than 12,000 wells have been tapped in recent years in the gas-rich underground rock formation that stretches beneath Dallas, Fort Worth and about 20 counties.

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