State says more tests needed to assess air risk

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by By CHRIS HAWES / WFAA-TV

wfaa.com

Posted on October 31, 2009 at 12:53 AM

Updated Thursday, Nov 12 at 12:06 PM

News 8 Exclusive

Chris Hawes reports

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DISH, Texas - Channel 8 has obtained an internal memo from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality that illustrates concern about the levels of a cancer-causing gas in Denton County.

More than a year ago, DISH Mayor Calvin Tillman started worrying about natural gas equipment called compressor stations that surround his tiny town of southwest of Denton.

The compressors propel the gas through the pipelines.

Tillman smelled odors, and wondered what his residents might be breathing. He filed a complaint with Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, and contacted the energy companies that operated the equipment.

Tillman said he was told "There's nothing in the air that can harm you."

Not satisfied with that answer, DISH paid for its own preliminary testing, and earlier this month, the results came back.

Wolf Eagle Environmental found levels of benzene that exceeded TCEQ's benchmark for concern. Benzene is a cancer-causing toxin.

"What we're actually seeing is a question of 'How long can I be exposed to this?'" said Alisa Rich of Wolf Eagle Environmental. "The first question is: 'Why would you want to be exposed to a human carcinogen?'"

Now, News 8 has obtained a TCEQ internal memo written by Shannon Ethridge, M.S., of the agency's Toxicology Divison. The memo backs the Wolf Eagle study, saying, in part:

"The Toxicology Department is concerned that the monitored concentrations of benzene at several of the sampling locations could pose a long-term health risk to residents in the area if the concentrations are representative of normal ambient conditions."

The memo recommends additional air sampling.

"There's no exact date where we will say, 'Well, if you haven't had some malady occur, therefore, you're OK, it's not going to occur.' No - because we've actually seen benzene 10 years down the road with cancer," Rich said.

DISH is included in the commission's Barnett Shale Air Quality Study, which is currently under way. Air testing is being carried out in Tarrant, Wise, Denton, Parker, and Johnson Counties.

Thus far, results in that study have also revealed what the TCEQ calls "surprising" levels of benzene.

That report is due by the end of the year.

State Representative Wendy Davis of Fort Worth says the report first broadcast by News 8 on Thursday is "alarming," and she is calling on the lieutenant governor to launch an investigation.

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