University of Cincinnati and Oregon State University Receive Funding for Air Quality Study
Related to Unconventional Natural Gas Drilling

October 21, 2013

The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) Centers at Oregon State University (OSU) and the University of Cincinnati (UC) recently received funding for a joint project entitled “Effects of Unconventional Gas Drilling on Air Quality in Rural Appalachian Ohio.”

The Centers plan to combine their research and community engagement expertise to address environmental health concerns and research gaps associated with unconventional natural gas drilling (UNGD) by testing local air quality. The study will characterize air volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are gases that include a variety of chemicals that may have the potential to impact health, both before and during UNGD. Personal passive sampling devices will measure ambient and individual exposures to determine if VOCs are higher in the air during UNGD.

The study will also evaluate the use of a state-of-the-art personal mobile exposure device (MED) that measures VOCs, location with an android cell phone, and lung function with a portable spirometer. Researchers aim to engage the rural Appalachian Ohio communities throughout the study, including sample collection and return of research results to ensure that data are collected and translated in a meaningful way. The community will also be engaged in focus groups to evaluate the design and utility of the MED.

This project will be conducted at five UNGD sites in Carroll County and other areas in Ohio where there is UNGD activity. Currently Carroll County has 99 UNGD permitted sites, providing a time-sensitive and unique opportunity to conduct air sampling prior to UNGD. A total of 24 baseline air samplers, a minimum of four at each drilling site, will be set-up to characterize and sample VOCs prior to UNGD.

With an emphasis on community participation, this project aims to bring cutting-edge science directly to the public, bridging the gap between scientists and their communities. The UC Center for Environmental Genetics (CEG), through its Community Outreach and Engagement Core (COEC), has cultivated strong relationships with several Ohio community organizations. These organizations have expressed concern about the potential impact of UNGD on air quality, including Carroll Concerned Citizens, Neighbors for Clean Air, and Save Our County.

This joint study is led by Erin Haynes, DrPH, COEC Director, Assistant Professor, and environmental health researcher in the UC Department of Environmental Health CEG, Kim Anderson, PhD, Professor in the OSU Department of Environmental and Molecular Toxicology, and Laurel Kincl, PhD, COEC Director and Assistant Professor in the OSU College of Public Health and Human Sciences.

UNGD involves the process of injecting millions of gallons of pressurized water mixed with sand and chemicals underground into drilled wells to bring up natural gas from deep shale formations. 

This article was written collaboratively by study researchers at University of Cincinnati and Oregon State University.

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