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    11.03.14 Recent Study by Brooklyn Law School Professor Macey Finds Environmental Hazards Near Residential Areas
    Professor Gregg Macey

    A recently published study co-authored by Associate Professor Gregg Macey examined air pollution near oil and natural gas production sites in Arkansas, Pennsylvania, Wyoming, Ohio, and Colorado, finding potentially cancer-causing levels of chemicals in locations close to where people live. Published this month in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Health, the study was supported by Brooklyn Law School’s Center for Health, Science and Public Policy, along with a handful of nonprofit organizations. It has generated significant coverage, including National Geographic, Inside Climate News, Climate Central, the Union of Concerned Scientists, U.S. News, the Albany Times-Union, and dozens of other media outlets.

    The study used samples collected by trained citizens living near the production sites. These residents, at times, were experiencing dizziness, nausea, headaches, and other symptoms, especially during heavy industrial activity. Tests found levels of formaldehyde, benzene, and six other toxic chemicals above levels considered safe by the federal government in 40 percent of the air samples.

    Professor Macey, who served as first author of the study, stated: "We need to do more to reconcile the conflicting results in oil and gas research. Our research is important not only for its basic findings, but the scale at which we took samples and the factors that motivated sample location. Peer-reviewed research occurs at different scales -- occupational studies within a well pad, regional studies of methane leakage rates and ozone formation, as well as more localized studies. Our study focuses on volatile compounds that can persist at ground level in air that residents routinely breathe, including spots a considerable distance from well pads, and beyond prevailing setback requirements." 

    An earlier study by Professor Macey published in the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management encouraged a vibrant literature on community monitoring. This time, Professor Macey teamed up with Global Community Monitor and other non-profit organizations to gather two kinds of air samples across the lifecycle of oil and gas production. They focused on a scale of air quality monitoring that is too often neglected in the literature -- places where residents live and go about their daily routines.

    Professor Macey stressed the importance of this work: "Air quality near well pads, compressor stations, and other equipment should be a science-driven inquiry. If you speak with environmental scientists at universities and agencies off the record, they offer some first principles. Peer-reviewed public health research in this area is in short supply. This is particularly true for exposure to localized concentrations of hazardous pollutants. And these and other data gaps limit the extent to which we can engage in risk-based regulation. This should not be surprising - emissions vary by lifecycle stage, composition of formations, equipment arrayed on a well pad, venting and flaring, and intensity of development. At the same time, monitoring is limited by the number of fixed stations, their focus on a small subset of emissions such as criteria air pollutants, the use of averaging times (e.g., one year or 24 hours), and access and cost issues. We therefore approached this research with a certain level of humility. We used a methodology developed through work with EPA and other agencies that is ideal for exploring peak exposure. The breadth of complex chemical mixtures that we found, including spikes in hazardous air pollutant levels, is disturbing and warrants further attention."

    Professor Macey has an extensive background in environmental regulation, organizations, and disaster theory. In addition to his JD, he holds a Ph.D. in urban planning and has taught environmental planning at the graduate level. At Brooklyn Law School, Professor Macey teachers Environmental Law, Environmental Justice Law and Policy, and Property.