The oil and gas industry has become more active in the Permian Basin in recent years, and west Texas residents have complained of noxious smells and increased air pollution. In response, The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality launched two air monitoring surveys in December and February, and the results are now public.
The survey teams spent 10 total days in Midland, Odessa, Goldsmith, Seminole and Denver City over December and February. They focused on publicly accessible and populated areas near industrial sites. The surveys measured air pollutants, like sulfur dioxide, and the more poisonous gas, hydrogen sulfide. The legal limit of hydrogen sulfide in Texas is 80 parts per billion over a 30-minute average.
That limit was exceeded in several different places on multiple days — in the worst instance, by 500% when the 30-minute average was 400 parts per billion.
That level of the gas isn’t enough to cause immediate, serious health concerns, but it can do damage in the long term, says Afamia Elnakat, a doctor of environmental toxicology at University of Texas San Antonio.
"Well, in terms of long-term exposure, we look at it the same way we look at either respiratory irritant or long term. And that is basically as much as people will be impacted, you become less tolerant to other irritants," said Elnakat.
She added the levels of hydrogen sulfide documented in the survey would likely affect the most sensitive groups only.
The TCEQ Midland office is investigating several facilities, and the agency plans to install permanent monitoring stations in the area. TCEQ officials declined an interview.
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