overview of possible impacts from coal seam gas
development in Northern Rivers, New South Wales
Project by Elfian Schieren, 2012
5.2 Health impacts on humans and animals
There is considerable community concern over health risks to
livestock and domestic animals likely to come into close contact with CSG
infrastructure in their pastures.
Bamberger and Oswald (2012) conducted one of the only studies
on this issue in the USA.
Their research illustrated strong associations with impacts to
animal and human health caused by contact with high production wells, pipeline
leaks, improper wastewater disposal (dumped on road and property), well flaring,
storm water runoff from well site, fraccing spill, drilling fluid spill and
leaking holding ponds.
These include gastrointestinal, reproduction and
dermatological irritation, upper respiratory irritation and failure, burning of
eyes, headache, neurological, musculoskeletal and urological damage and sudden
death (Bamberger and Oswald, 2012). During this study two direct impact
situations where recorded.
One involved the spilling of hydraulic fluids into a cow
pasture that killed 17 cows in one hour; the second was the result of a faulty
valve on a barrel containing hydraulic fluid which leaked into a pasture causing
the goats within to experience reproductive defects for the next two years
(Bamberger and Oswald, 2012).
Seven cattle farms were involved in the study and all showed
the same trend that at least 50% of the herd was affected by death or inability
to produce live born calves when contacted with contaminated water.
Necropsies revealed liver, kidney and respiratory failure as
the main causes of death.
Petroleum hydrocarbons were found in the small intestine,
lesions to lung, trachea, liver and kidneys suggested exposure to other
toxicants (Bamberger and Oswald, 2012).
In two separate cases a control and experimental group was
inadvertently provided when one herd of cattle was exposed to creek water
contaminated by CSG produced water and another herd were in other pastures with
separate water source.
In both cases results showed that in the experimental group
around 35% died and 36% experienced reproductive problems compared to 0% in the
control group (Bamberger and Oswald, 2012).
Other cases reported and confirmed by medical physicians
include arsenic heavy metal poisoning of children and dogs using contaminated
Mobilisation of heavy metals, volatile organic compounds and
radioactive substances from the coal seam are thought to occur in addition to
chemicals from fraccing and drilling (Bamberger and Oswald, 2012).
Research on the health risks from air contamination concludes
that residents within half a mile of gas wells risk sub-chronic health effects
to neurological and respiratory systems from exposure to aliphatic hydrocarbons,
trimethylbenzenes and butadienes (McKenzie et al. 2012).
A citizen based study in the USA revealed high levels of
carcinogenic chemicals including benzene and acrylonitrile at 3 to 3000 times
higher than safe levels in CSG areas.
This report states that the companies involved in exploration
and production are exempt from two key provisions of the Clean Air’s Act
National Emissions Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants and are therefore able
to avoid complying with public health standards (Larson et al., 2011).
The same study revealed that families in areas around gas
wells reported rotten egg smells followed by headaches, nosebleeds and rashes
(Larson et al., 2011.
These symptoms coincide with symptoms reported by nine
different families 19 living in Tara, QLD near CSG wells who are suffering nose
bleeds, diarrhoea, nausea, vomiting, sore eyes and rashes.
These families also report smelling gas on their properties
(Climate Spectator, 2012).
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