Monroe, Belmont Water Being Studied

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — Disease detective work is how the lead researcher studying water in Monroe and Belmont counties this summer describes her field.

Nicole Deziel is an assistant professor at Yale University’s School of Public Health and will have a team in place this summer in Ohio to collect data concerning the quality of drinking water surrounding oil and natural gas development.

The study began last year with samples taken in Pennsylvania and has now moved to Ohio to tally any health effects on families where homes are served by a private well or spring, and their groundwater is sourced in proximity to oil and gas production.

This is not the first time Deziel has eyed Eastern Ohio to study the outfalls of fracking.

“I was there in Belmont County in 2016. I did a similar pilot drinking water study,” Deziel said. “That study showed some evidence that people who live closer to unconventional oil and gas wells had elevated either presence or levels of chemicals in their water. The first study was what I would call suggestive … but really underscored the need for a more significant effort.”

Now back in the Appalachian hills, Deziel’s team is asking for participants to offer one to two hours of their time for a home visit and allow the joint effort from Yale and MIT to collect more data on drinking water, sample and test for more chemicals and potentially influence the national discourse concerning regulations.

“The question is whether or not the unconventional oil and gas industry could be impacting the chemistry or quality of the water,” Deziel said.

“We’ll be looking at whether people who live near more unconventional oil and gas wells may or may not have elevated levels of certain chemicals. We’ll be doing some chemical analysis of the chemicals to see how likely they are to come from oil and gas or not. Many of the chemicals that we’re measuring have numerous other sources or are naturally occurring.

“Currently we are doing a new drinking water study in both Pennsylvania and Ohio. … We’re able to test for many more chemicals in drinking water,” Deziel added. “We are testing for quite a range of environmental chemicals ranging from things like inorganic compounds, which include things like arsenic and lead, to volatile organic compounds like benzene. There are about 100 different entities we are testing for.”

The U.S. EPA reported in 2016 that more data is needed to understand if there are any adverse effects from oil and gas development and the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, on surrounding water tables and ultimately public health.

“A strength of our study is that we are very interdisciplinary, so we have brought together public health scientists like myself, partnering with chemical engineers, hydrogeologists and other epidemiologists to try and address this question,” Deziel said. “We are funded through the (U.S. EPA), and we have three goals of this whole project: develop a model to see if we could predict where water contamination could occur … that could be an important tool for policymakers and public officials. … The second is analyzing this screening and determine if there’s contamination occurring.”

The third goal, she said, is to launch an additional study of neonatal health outcomes and any potential associations with gas and oil development.

But according to Jeffery Kephart, water superintendent for the city of Marietta, Ohio, many of the volatile organic chemicals Deziel is looking for are found not just in fracking processes, but also in many household products such as gasoline, paint cleaners/thinners, cleaners, cigarettes, soaps, polishes and carpets. Kephart noted that other chemicals the Yale study is looking for can also be byproducts of water treatment processes, including trihalomethanes that come from chlorine used for disinfecting purposes and have measurable levels deemed safe by state and national agencies for consumption.

“Any private water well for individuals would not be required to test for these chemicals,” he said.

Mike Chadsey, director of public relations for the Ohio Oil and Gas Association, said landowners where gas and oil development occurs are encouraged to notify well companies nearby if changes in water or health are noticed.

“Since we live, work and play in the same areas we operate in, we also care about our shared clean drinking water, which is why we support the strong well casing standards Ohio has in place that require redundant layers of steel and cement for our wells,” Chadsey said.

Deziel said the study is still enrolling participants and that researchers will be in Belmont and Monroe counties through mid-August.

“The study includes one home visit (which) can last anywhere from one to two hours where we do an interview with the owner or resident of the home, collect water samples either from their outdoor spigot or their kitchen tap and we collect the geographic position system coordinates of their home,” she said.

To learn more about the study or if you are a Belmont or Monroe county resident interested in participating, visit the website http://waterstudy.yale.edu or contact the research team at 203-737-6229, or waterstudy@yale.edu. There is no cost to join the study, and participants receive their water test results if they choose and a $20 debit card.

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