Teacher outlines defenses on toxins

WHEELING – The best defense against exposure to benzene or other compounds expelled at natural gas drilling well sites is to stay healthy – or try to get away from them, said Michael McCawley, a department chairman in the West Virginia University School of Public Health.

During a recent public health conference in Wheeling, McCawley released the findings of his study of seven different wells sites in Brooke, Wetzel and Marion counties. One of those Wetzel sites, the Maury pad, had high levels of benzene – a gas that causes leukemia, he said.

McCawley said he believes development of the pad is complete and that benzene levels likely are back to normal or to that of the surrounding community.

“There should be no concern for continuing exposures from that particular well site. … Everyone, regardless of whether or not they live around drilling sites, should have regular check-ups, exercise, maintain a proper weight, get rest and eat properly. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle like that is probably the best defense, now, against the effects of past environmental exposures,” McCawley said.

The Maury pad is being operated by Louisiana-based Stone Energy. Company officials could not be reached for comment.

McCawley said people who live near well pad sites and don’t want to risk exposure may want to negotiate with the drilling company. For example, a family in Marion County living about 200 feet from a well pad site negotiated with a company that covered the cost of a hotel room for a few days during the fracking process, he said.