Recent AJAX Air Quality Report Reveals Concerning Results, Including an Unexpected Toxic Chemical Measuring Above Health Guidelines.

The Broomfield community was made aware of high levels of the chemical Tetrachloroethylene at the Air Quality monitoring study session on Tuesday, February 18th. AJAX Analytics, the company hired by Broomfield to monitor the potential toxins released into the air by residential oil and gas operations, detected high levels of this unexpected chemical at the Livingston Site on February 1.  This chemical is commonly found in dry-cleaning operations. and AJAX speculated that Extraction could be using it as a metal degreaser. On February 21, the City and County of Broomfield sent a letter to Extraction requesting further information on their usage of products containing this chemical after speaking with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE).  The safe threshold limit for this chemical based on the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) is 6 parts per billion (ppb) for both acute and chronic exposure. Levels found in the grab sample were 40 ppb.  The Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulates the use of tetrachloroethylene.

The sample with the elevated level was captured by a new technology that AJAX is using, which is a canister that is triggered to collect an air sample. Sensors tell the canister that elevated levels of some chemical are present, and the canister immediately grabs a sample of the air. The station that captured this data was a mere 1200 ft from homes in Anthem Ranch. No levels of this chemical were found at the monitoring station in Anthem Highlands. After finding this chemical, AJAX looked back at past air quality samples from the Livingston Site and confirmed that this chemical was present and elevated in several samples, which indicates that usage of this chemical was not a one-time occurrence. It also indicates that spikes may have happened in the past that were not detected because the trigger canisters are a new technology used by AJAX.

According to the Environment Protection Agency, “Effects resulting from acute (short term) high-level inhalation exposure of humans to tetrachloroethylene include irritation of the upper respiratory tract and eyes, kidney dysfunction, and neurological effects such as reversible mood and behavioral changes, impairment of coordination, dizziness, headache, sleepiness, and unconsciousness.  The primary effects from chronic (long term) inhalation exposure are neurological, including impaired cognitive and motor neurobehavioral performance.” The EPA has also classified this chemical to likely be carcinogenic to humans. While there is no way to clearly correlate nearby health symptoms to this one chemical, it should be noted that nearby residents have reported dizziness, headaches, eye, throat, and nose irritation, and there have also been recent reports of newly diagnosed neurological disorders.

In addition to finding the above chemical, the AJAX report states that Broomfield has set new maximum-level records for many of the chemicals being analyzed. Chemical levels that set new record levels include but are not limited to benzene, ethylbenzene, and toluene. These increases were found at all monitoring stations near the sites. The highest levels of Benzene were recorded at one of the Northwest monitoring sites. The air monitoring site at Broomfield Commons did not show the same patterns in recording these chemicals. This is important because this shows these chemicals are not being found at the station furthest away from oil and gas activity, making it clearer that what is being found could be coming from the operations underway. Considering these chemicals, especially benzene, are known carcinogens, setting new record levels is also a concern to the people living in proximity to these sites who continue to ask the City if what they are being exposed to is safe. While there may be a vague understanding of how these chemicals impact health and safety on an individual level, hundreds of chemicals are released during the process of unconventional oil and gas development (fracking), and comprehensive studies have not yet been done on the compound effects of this chemical “cocktail.”  It is important to note that these chemicals found are still reporting within the “safe” range based on existing EPA and CDPHE exposure guidelines, however this is no consolation to the people who are being exposed. The World Health Organization continues to say that there is no safe level of benzene exposure. Council member Laurie Anderson emphasized the importance of re-evaluating the “safe” levels of these chemicals once we get a toxicologist and epidemiologist looking at the data in Broomfield, and that new level-setting may be appropriate.  Epidemiologist Dr. Meagan Weisner began her employment with Broomfield on February 19.

The last piece of important information brought forward in this study session is that emissions were recorded during the flowback process despite the closed loop system that was put into place. Many residents and some council members expected that the closed loop system would make the flowback phase safer, as all emissions should theoretically be captured. AJAX indicated that the emissions found were lower than traditional flowback sites but remain in-line with what was recorded during the drilling and fracking phases. Both phases did not utilize a close looped system. Council Member Lim asked staff why emissions were present when Broomfield was promised no emissions and asked if the Staff expected to see this. Tami Yellico indicated that they had expected less emissions. Council Member Lim followed up with asking the staff if they are concerned there will be a larger volume of emissions at Livingston than Interchange. Tami Yellico replied to this question, “We are concerned but have not identified further mitigations to better protect the residents from these emissions.”

During questions and comments from Council, most of the questions asked and comments made showed that Council is concerned over the items released in this report. Both Mayor Pro Tem Castriotta and Council Member Henkel spoke clearly about their concerns, with Council Member Henkel stating that she is looking for more communication considering the City is dealing with health issues. Council Member Groom had more specific concerns about Tetrachloroethylene. She voiced concern about if this chemical could have ended up in the soil. She based these concerns on her experience and warned the City that this is a substance that can’t be mitigated if it reaches the water table. Council Member Law-Evans (who is the only sitting Council Member who voted for the MOU) asked if this chemical exposure was a violation of the MOU and asked how many incidents it would take to say there is a violation of the MOU. City and County Attorney Shaun Sullivan indicated that this presentation was the first he heard of this chemical being found and did not feel comfortable responding to these questions until he had more information on this report.

Broomfield Public Health Director Jason Vahling spoke to the fact that they were “seeing some associations” between the data and the health reports that were coming from the community. He described three elements required to make an argument for health impacts: measuring what’s emitted (which AJAX has been doing for a year now), studying what’s been published about the impacts on public health and safety (like the CDPHE Study of impacts within 2000 feed of oil and gas development) and what we’re seeing in our community (which the city has been tracking using their reporting system and tracking mechanisms). He explained that finding associations between these elements is essential, and that currently they are finding in Broomfield “associations that are concerning.”

Are you concerned? Please plan to attend the next City Council Meeting to express your concerns to council or send an email to:

Full link to information on Tetrachloroethylene can be found HERE.

To watch the full study session and discussion click HERE.