DECATUR — The day Aruba Petroleum began drilling operations next to the Ruggiero family's Decatur-area home is the day the dread began for Christine and Tim Ruggiero.
The couple said they wondered how the industrial site - located in what used to be their horse pasture - would affect their lives, and more importantly, their nine-year-old daughter.
The Ruggieros called state investigators to complain of emissions. In January and again in February, investigators recorded emissions from the facility using an infrared camera. They also took on-the-spot air samples. The results revealed there were elevated levels of benzene, a cancer-causing toxin.
"There's a nine-year-old child in this house," Mrs. Ruggiero said. "There are children in homes all around where this facility is. Can you not do something to prevent those emissions?"
Aruba Petroleum released a statement saying it's committed to maintaining environmental and safety standards.
"We are working with the TCEQ to resolve this matter," the statement read. "The TCEQ's report states that both the investigator and the agency's own toxicological review indicates that no adverse health effects occurred as the result of these emissions."
The level is below TCEQ's benchmark of concern for someone exposed for a short amount of time. For instance, the WFAA crew came and went in less than two hours. But, for the Ruggieros, breathing air from the facility for months, possibly years, it's a potentially different story.
Taken in February, the highest sample was 85 times the state's benchmark for long-term health concerns. Lower levels, if they're breathed consistently over time, can lead to serious health problems.
"In terms of getting cancer, things like leukemia, we're talking five to ten years typically for it to manifest itself," said Dr. Martyn Smith, a nationally recognized benzene health affects expert.
A third test was taken in mid-February. No elevated emissions were found. Additional samples were taken in late February, but those results aren't back yet.
Until long-term testing can be done, no one can know what levels of benzene the family was exposed to over the course of a year, leaving the Ruggieros to wonder if the samples are the highest they'll see.
Information about how to make TCEQ emissions complaints can be found at http://www.tceq.state.tx.us/compliance/complaints/