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DEP Continues Air Quality Study In Southwestern PA

The Department of Environmental Protection will continue to study air quality near gas wells in Washington County through the end of the year.

In 2012, the DEP began a long-term study to measure ambient air pollution in Chartiers and Hickory townships, where both “wet” and “dry” natural gas are being extracted and sold through compressor stations and pipeline networks.

DEP spokesman Kevin Sunday said while most of the attention has been on water contamination, the emphasis is beginning to shift towards drilling’s effect on air pollution.

“Impacts to water supplies have occurred,” Sunday said, “but with the onset of casing and cementing regulations, which we instituted in 2011, those impacts have been much less frequent and now the focus has turned to air quality.”

The samples taken during this study will be tested for more than 60 volatile organic compounds, including ground-level ozone, particulate matter, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, hydrogen sulfide and methane. A final report is expected to be released in 2014.

Sunday said continuing this study will give a more accurate picture of air pollutants over a longer period of time.

“We wanted to make sure that we took a close look at one of the most actively drilled areas in a state,” Sunday said. “And made sure we had in place a framework that protects public health going forward.

The DEP conducted three short-term air quality studies in the past, finding no levels of any pollutants that would violate federal ambient air quality standards.

According to a 2012 emissions inventory submitted to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds and particulate matter emissions between 2008 and 2011 reduced significantly. These reductions represented between $14 and $37 billion in annual public health benefits, according to the EPA.

Technical support documents meant to provide additional information about the study’s specifics were also released by the DEP.

The documents highlight the study’s sampling design, analysis methods and the science behind ambient air studies.

A final report is expected to be released in 2014.

The Erie, PA native has been a fellow in the WESA news department since May 2013. Having earned a bachelor's degree in print journalism from Duquesne University, he is now pursuing an M.A. in multi-media management. Michael describes his career aspiration as "I want to do it all in journalism."