Gas piped into homes contains benzene and other hazardous chemicals, study finds

Natural gas delivered to homes contains low levels of several cancer-linked chemicals, a new study finds. The researchers also found in...


Natural gas delivered to homes contains low levels of several cancer-linked chemicals, a new study finds. The researchers also found inconsistent levels of odorants – substances that give natural gas its characteristic “rotten egg” smell – which could increase the risk of small leaks going undetected.

The study, published in the journal Environmental Science & Technologyadds to a growing body of research linking the delivery and use of natural gas with adverse public health and climate consequences.

Most previous research has documented the pollutants present where oil and gas extraction takes place, but there are “fewer studies the further you go through the supply chain,” said Drew Michanowicz, the study’s lead author, examining “where we really are”. use it, in our homes.

Over 16 months, researchers led by the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health collected 234 samples of unburned natural gas from 69 homes in the Boston metro area that received natural gas from three suppliers. They found 21 ‘air toxics’ – an Environmental Protection Agency classification of hazardous pollutants known or suspected of causing cancer, birth defects or adverse environmental effects – including benzene, which was detected in 95% of samples.

Short-term exposure to high levels of benzene in particular could lead to drowsiness, dizziness, headaches, and eye and skin irritation, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Longer term exposure can increase the risk of blood disorders and certain cancers such as leukemia.

The highly flammable chemical is colorless or light yellow and is found in products made from coal and petroleum, including plastics, resins and nylon fibers, as well as some types of rubbers, dyes and pesticides. It is also regularly found in vehicle exhaust, tobacco smoke, and gasoline.

The benzene concentrations the researchers found in the natural gas samples were “much lower than the amount in gasoline,” Dr. Michanowicz said Friday during a conference call with reporters. Even so, he said, the finding is concerning because “natural gas is so widely used in society and in our indoor spaces.”

According to the EPA, Americans spend more than 90% of their time indoors, where concentrations of some pollutants can range from two to five times higher than outdoor concentrations.

Benzene is a carcinogen and exposure over time adds up, leading some experts to suggest there is no safe level of exposure.

The researchers said the purpose of their study was to identify the presence and concentration of certain hazards, and that more research is needed to understand the health risks.

“The biggest sources of benzene in most people’s lives are gasoline from cars and smoking,” said Rob Jackson, a geologist at Stanford University who did not work on the study. “On the other hand, any unnecessary benzene in your home is just too much.”

The unburned natural gas also contained inconsistent levels of odorants, or substances that give off a noticeable odor, the researchers said. Methane, the main component of natural gas, is odorless, so odorants are regularly added to help detect leaks.

“If there’s less odorant in the natural gas stream, there’s a greater potential for larger leaks to exist without odor,” Dr. Michanowicz said on Friday’s call.

When released into the atmosphere unburned, methane is a particularly potent greenhouse gas. It can warm the planet more than 80 times more like the same amount of carbon dioxide over a 20-year period. Oil and gas companies have been criticized in recent years for often large-scale and invisible methane releases.

Across the country, a growing number of cities are trying to phase out natural gas hookups in homes and businesses in favor of electric alternatives, primarily citing the impact on emissions of the continued burning of fossil fuels.

The new research suggests that natural gas leaks not only release methane, but also toxic substances into the air that could harm public health, said Curtis Nordgaard, a pediatrician and co-author of the study. “We might want to rethink these leaks not just as a climate issue, but as a health issue,” he said.

Dr. Nordgaard is a Principal Investigator at PSE Healthy Energy, a nonprofit research institute focused on public health and the climate effects of energy production, along with Dr. Michanowicz.

With this study, the researchers said they hoped to fill a gap in the availability and transparency of gas composition data. Pipeline operators and gas suppliers in the United States generally test the composition of gas, in accordance with the recommendations of the North American Energy Standards Board, an industry organization that sets standards for the natural gas and electricity market.

However, gas composition tests typically only measure the 16 most abundant constituents of natural gas. This list does not include some of the compounds identified by the researchers, such as benzene.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Gas piped into homes contains benzene and other hazardous chemicals, study finds
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