Pollution Data To Be Collected

WHEELING – The Wheeling-Ohio County Health Department plans to help West Virginia University researchers collect air quality data related to natural gas drilling.

During a regular board of health meeting Tuesday, Administrator Howard Gamble said Somu Chatterjee, regional epidemiologist based at the health department, is coordinating the effort with WVU. He wants to find property owners willing to allow the devices to be placed on or near their property. After the meeting, Chatterjee said for now the air quality will be measured in Ohio County, but data may also be collected in Marshall and Brooke counties.

“There is no air quality data available in the country specifically linked to gas drilling,” Chatterjee said. “We want to find out the health effects and changes in ambient air quality. … This will benefit the community and companies as well.”

The study, he said, will take into account other things that may impact air quality, such as factories or vehicle exhaust. Volunteers interested in allowing a monitor to be placed on or near their property can call Chatterjee at 304-234-3682, ext. 233.

“To be involved with this is very exciting for the Wheeling-Ohio County Health Department,” said Health Officer Dr. William Mercer.

The data will be collected at various sites and distances from wells and at all phases of the gas drilling process. The air monitoring equipment that will be used was designed by Michael McCawley, associate research professor at the WVU Department of Occupational & Environmental Health Sciences. Data collected by the equipment can be checked via computer in Morgantown.

Gamble said preliminary data collected during the next few months will be used to help the university secure grant funding to conduct a larger study that likely will yield final results in four or five years.

In other matters, Mercer talked about an outbreak of hantavirus at Yosemite National Park in California. One Kanawha County, W.Va., resident who had camped at the park died from the infection, which is spread through the air and found in the droppings and urine of rodents infected with the virus. Most of the cases across the country have been in visitors using tents provided by Yosemite National Park. According to published reports, it has been confirmed via testing that eight people who camped at the park have been infected with hantavirus and three have died from breathing in the infected dust inside the tents.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, hantavirus symptoms are similar to those of the seasonal flu but become worse quickly, making it hard for people to breathe. The infection can lead to lung, heart or kidney failure, resulting in death.

“I actually thought I had a case – a guy who had been camping in Yosemite during that time got sick. … His testing came back negative. I guess the test costs $220,” Mercer said. “This virus is pretty rare. … If you were out there and camping, you could have been exposed.”

Mercer also said West Virginia has seen no seasonal flu cases, to date. He described last flu season as “light” on cases. He said the health department still wants to encourage everyone, especially health care workers, to receive a vaccine shot, available now at the health department, local pharmacies and doctors’ offices.