Location of DISH, Texas
DISH – Blood and urine samples taken from residents of Dish by state health officials in January contain the same toxic compounds that have been detected in the town's air and water.
The results showed that exposure is occurring, according to Louisiana chemist Wilma Subra.
"Clearly, it's connecting the dots – which we didn't want to happen," Subra said.
Subra, the recipient of a 1999 MacArthur Fellows "genius" grant for her work as an environmental health scientist, has been working with the community ever since Dish spent $15,000 last year to commission its own study of the town's air quality.
Eleven gas gathering pipelines converge at the southern end of the town, where five energy companies run major compression and metering facilities in a side-by-side complex of plants on Strader Road.
Allison Lowery, Texas Department of State Health Services spokeswoman, confirmed that the department sent results last week to all 28 residents who were tested, far fewer than the 50 people the agency originally planned to choose at random for testing.
In addition, the department will release a summary report, since individual results are considered confidential. The aggregate report is being drafted now and should be released the last week of April or the first week of May, Lowery said.
Resident Amber Smith was troubled that it took so long to get the individual results, she said. When investigators came to take a water sample along with blood and urine samples in January, she was told it would take four to six weeks to get results.
As she read the April 2 cover letter that came with her results, she said the words seemed carefully crafted.
She was angered, however, she said, at how the letter suggested she had been exposed to the solvent N,N-dimethylformamide through "the production of electronic components, pharmaceutical products, textile coatings, and synthetic fibers."
"I'm around none of that," Smith said. "They found the same compounds in all my neighbors, but in trying to explain that, they failed to associate that it could be the drilling. They never once did even mention that in their explanation."
Similarly, when he received his individual results, Mayor Calvin Tillman said he was reassured at first, since the levels detected in his blood did not exceed any average values for the general population, according to the cover letter that came with his test results.
But no such baseline comparison exists for urine, where toxic compounds show up as metabolites in the body. And, after Smith and Tillman compared their individual results with several other residents, they became more concerned.
The same toxic compounds found in their own blood and urine tests were detected in other residents. Tillman said he asked Subra to make some comparisons.
Overall, many of the same compounds found in the air or in the local water supplies, which state health officials also tested, have been detected in the blood and urine from those test results she's seen, Subra said.
Toluene, for example, was detected in the air at all seven locations tested in Dish last August. A toluene metabolite was detected in Tillman's urine sample along with the urine samples of at least three other residents. Records for four of the 28 individuals were released to the Denton Record-Chronicle by the individuals.
Tillman said his health is good, but he has experienced headaches and a burning feeling in his throat and lungs when he could smell emissions coming from the nearby complex.
Tillman's urine contained 5.4 micrograms of a toluene metabolite per gram of creatinine, according to the documents, along with 832 micrograms of a butadiene metabolite and 307 grams of a N,N-dimethylformamide metabolite.
All three compounds are among 187 airborne toxic substances that the Environmental Protection Agency is supposed to monitor. Dimethylformamide can cause liver damage, butadiene can cause cancer and toluene can affect the nervous system and the kidneys, according to studies compiled by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
While ethylbenzene was found in six, and styrene in three, of the seven air samples collected in August, state health investigators also found ethylbenzene and styrene in Tillman's well water.
Dish officials have been so focused on the air quality that they may have forgotten the potential for exposure through the water supply, Subra said. Many Dish residents have private water wells.
Lloyd Burgess was among those residents who also released his individual results. State health officials noted that "the level of trichloroethene found in [his] blood was slightly higher than the level found in people throughout the United States," according to the cover letter.
Burgess' blood test found 0.013 micrograms of trichloroethene, known as TCE, per liter of blood, compared to a nationwide benchmark of less than 0.012 micrograms.
TCE is a solvent for metal cleaning and degreasing, sometimes found in home maintenance and auto products. Repeated exposure to TCE may cause liver, kidney or lung cancer, according to the federal registry. TCE also was found in one of the air samples collected near Burgess' home, Subra said.
Burgess declined to comment, saying his attorney advised him not to.
Both Smith and Tillman were troubled that none of the random samples taken by investigators included children. Each is a parent of two elementary school-aged children.
Had state investigators tested the blood and urine of children, there would have been no nationwide benchmark to compare the results, Lowery said.
Smith said she and her family live on land that belonged to their in-laws, and she worries about what her children are being exposed to.
"I have this nagging guilt," Smith said. "My kids are the most important thing to me, but we can't just up and move.
"Even if we did, where would we go? Everywhere it's the same thing – even in Fort Worth – there's no escaping it."