Gas Compressors and Nose Bleeds

A new study connects health issues with rural gas compressor pollution.

  • To attain permits, pipeline companies use analysts who manipulate projected emissions levels to make them acceptable by Environmental Protection Agency standards.
    Photo by Fotolia/Alikssa

In rural Minisink, NY, air contaminants from the Millennium Pipeline gas compressor now exceed what would be found even in a big city, says environmental health consultant David Brown. After dozens of Minisink residents found they were beset by similar ailments immediately after the compressor station was built in 2013, a two-month study of air contaminants and residents’ symptoms was conducted by Brown and his cohorts at Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project. The nonprofit group of public health experts, based in McMurray, PA, have been investigating a comparable pattern of symptoms near gas drilling sites in Pennsylvania and other states.

In the Minisink study, recently released, they found that spikes in air toxins around the compressor coincided with residents’ adverse health symptoms. The study involved 35 residents, who were surveyed using a well-tested survey method, including interviews by a physician. SWP-EHP also provided five Speck monitors to measure fine particulate matter in air near residences for the two months, from October 19 to December 17 of 2014. Participants additionally used special canisters to capture air samples during “odor events,” periods when the compressor emitted strong odors.

Asthma, nosebleeds, headaches, and rashes were common among the 35 participants in eight families living within one mile of the compressor. Those symptoms are also frequently reported around gas fracking sites, said Brown.

Six of the 12 children studied had nosebleeds, which Brown attributed to elevated blood pressure or irritation of mucous membranes by formaldehyde, a carcinogen found in excess around compressors in a recent SUNY Albany study.

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Of particular concern were elevations of fine particulate matter (PM 2.5).

During the monitoring period, average PM 2.5 was 17 to 20 micrograms per cubic meter (ug/M3)—three times the regional average of 6.3. So it was regularly beyond the Environmental Protection Agency limit of 12. Multiple episodes of peaks into the hundreds, as high as 426, were also recorded by Speck monitors. “One home had a 24-hour period with an average of 64ug/m3 ,” said Brown.

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