State calls for more study of air in Dish, notes earlier benzene, sulfide readings

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by By PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE / Denton Record-Chronicle pheinkel-wolfe@dentonrc.com

wfaa.com

Posted on October 30, 2009 at 12:00 AM

Updated Thursday, Nov 12 at 12:06 PM

DISH - Toxicologists at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality have recommended more study of the air quality in Dish, according to an internal memo released this week.

The recommendations came after a review of a private consultant's air quality study, commissioned by Dish town leaders earlier this year. Dish is southwest of Denton.

Tony Walker, the commission's director for Region 4, pointed to benzene readings found by Flower Mound-based Wolf Eagle Environmental Engineers and Consultants.

"We've opened an investigation specific to that site," Walker said.

Benzene is a known carcinogen.

The commission was in the middle of a five-county study of Barnett Shale gas drilling and production when the concerns specific to Dish came to a head, Walker said. He added that the commission's "fly-overs" of various production sites was the first step in determining whether some rules needed to be changed.

"We wanted to do a phased approach," Walker said.

The toxicologists' memo also noted concerns about sulfides found in the Wolf Eagle study. Because some of the long carbon chains in the air samples were difficult to identify, state toxicologists said they could not draw accurate conclusions about the long-term health affects, and recommended more study on those pollutants as well.

Dish leaders voted to spend $10,000 to study the town's air quality after years of complaining to industry and regulators about foul odors emanating from compression and metering facilities at the edge of town. About a dozen major gas-gathering pipelines converge in Dish. Five energy companies remotely operate plants between Tim Donald and Strader roads that prepare the gas for consumer markets.

Residents became concerned about their health this month at a town hall meeting, where they learned that the consultant found elevated levels of benzene and other carcinogens, as well as sulfides and other neurotoxins.

Mayor Calvin Tillman said residents continue to complete health surveys, which will be compiled by Wilma Subra, nationally known for her work in environmental health. Subra has 15 completed surveys so far, and Tillman estimated sending 20 more surveys to her by the end of the week.

Meanwhile, he has been talking to officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about testing the community; a battery of tests costs about $700.

TCEQ recognizes that, with the Barnett Shale development, the variables have changed, Walker said. The agency won't turn down offers of quality data from anyone, including the health surveys.

Walker would not rule out either possible enforcement action in its Dish investigation or changes to current regulations overall. Recommendations for rule changes could come as soon as the first of the year, he said.

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