DENVER (AP) – Federal officials say air-quality tests at a southwest Colorado school near gas drilling show toxins are below harmful levels, but a community group says its tests produced different results.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released a report Wednesday on monitoring done in 2009 at an elementary school that’s part of the Durango school district and on the Southern Ute Indian Reservation. Sunnyside Elementary School was one of 63 schools in 22 states where air quality was assessed and was selected for monitoring because it is near oil and gas operations.
Sunnyside was the only Colorado school monitored.
“The levels of air toxins during the testing were all below risk level,” said Adam Eisele, an environmental engineer with the regional EPA office in Denver.
The EPA worked with the tribe collecting the data from Sept. 4, 2009, to Nov. 9, 2009.
The San Juan Citizens Alliance, an environmental group in Durango, says air-quality testing in conjunction with California-based Global Community Monitor in January showed high levels of benzene, known to cause cancer. Josh Joswick, an organizer with San Juan Citizens Alliance, said a final report on the findings is in the works.
The Southern Ute tribe has questioned the groups’ results, saying in an April 21 statement it has reason to believe “the sample may have been inadvertently contaminated.”
“We feel pretty confident that what we came up with was pretty valid,” said Joswick, a former La Plata County commissioner.
Joswick said the two studies are “comparing apples and oranges”‘ because of the different procedures. He said he hopes both can add to a database that will be important to develop in terms of public health.
La Plata County is one of Colorado’s major gas-producing areas. There are about 3,300 wells in La Plata County alone and many more in surrounding areas, Joswick said.
“We’ve had gas development down here for over 20 years,” Joswick said, “and nobody has really done a broad monitoring of it.”
Natural gas development in the Rockies, at record rates before the recession, has been blamed for increasing levels of ground-level ozone and other pollutants in Colorado and western Wyoming. Colorado regulators tightened regulations on gas producers in northeastern Colorado in 2006 when the Denver area exceeded federal ozone standards.
Industry representatives have disputed that oil and operations are the main culprit.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)