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Thousands of Missourians Threatened by Dirty Air

Missouri has nearly 700 active oil and gas operations and over 20,000 people living in "threat zones" around them. (
Missouri has nearly 700 active oil and gas operations and over 20,000 people living in "threat zones" around them. (
August 31, 2016

ST. LOUIS – A new study from the Clean Air Task Force, an environmental research and advocacy group, shows 22,000 people in Missouri live close enough to oil and gas operations that their health is at risk.

The study is based on information in the Oil and Gas Threat Map, which details areas where people are living within a half-mile "threat zone" from oil and gas development.

The map also lists counties with cancer and respiratory health risks that exceed standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Paul Billings, senior vice president for advocacy for the American Lung Association, says these residents have cause for concern.

"Many of these facilities have leaks and essentially, methane and volatile organic compounds are leaking into the atmosphere that should be captured and put into the system, and not squandered into the air," explains.

The Clean Air Task Force report says in Missouri, there are 687 active oil and gas wells, compressors and processors, and 13 schools within the threat radius of these operations.

Melanie Donnell is a teacher in Springfield, and also the parent of a 6-year-old with cystic fibrosis. She says it's hard to accept that her daughter and some of her students with asthma are being affected by polluted air that's human-caused. Donnell says she teaches in a school where most of the students are from low-income families.

"These families have enough to deal with,” she stresses. “They don't need to worry about respiratory issues to then tack on medical bills that they can't handle, when they're still trying to figure out how to pay rent or buy food. "

Donnell says her daughter and children who have asthma have a hard time trying to breathe when the air is dirty.

"I am a kindergarten teacher,” she says. “I do have kids that I've had off and on throughout the years that have respiratory issues. And it just seems like we're just having more and more of those issues, and I know it's due to the air just not being clean, and not what it's supposed to be. "

The report links about 24,000 asthma attacks every year in Missouri to oil and gas production, and nearly 17,000 lost school days.

Statewide, the report says more than 46,000 people suffer from acute respiratory symptoms.

Veronica Carter, Public News Service - MO