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After 17 Years, Hydrogen Sulfide Reinstated to Federal Toxics Inventory

WASHINGTON, Nov. 4 — Earthworks welcomed the news that after 17 years, the EPA ordered oil and gas companies to resume publicly disclosing releases of hydrogen sulfide, a toxic gas often emitted from drilling rigs and refineries.

Beginning next year, hydrogen sulfide emissions must again be reported to the Toxics Release Inventory, a federal database that allows Americans to find out what hazardous chemicals are being released in their communities, Nationwide, communities have not only used the TRI to learn about chemical releases in their neighborhoods, but to campaign for tighter regulations and health protections.

Hydrogen sulfide occurs naturally, but is also a byproduct of many industrial process including paper manufacturing, sewage treatment, or livestock feedlots. It is also found in oil and natural gas, whch is considered “sour” if it has a high percentage of the compound. It may leak from drill rigs and refineries, but is often also deliberately burned off, exposing nearby communities to its harmful effects.

Common symptoms of exposure to long-term, low levels of hydrogen sulfide include headache, skin complications, respiratory and mucous membrane irritation, respiratory soft tissue damage and degeneration, confusion, impairment of verbal recall, memory loss, and prolonged reaction time. Exposure to high concentrations can cause unconsciousness and can be fatal.

Hydrogen sulfide was added to the TRI list in 1993, but reporting was suspended the next year under pressure from industry. Since then, communities and advocates have campaigned for its reinstatement,. Eathworks was part of a coalition led by Neil J. Carman of the Texas chapter of the Sierra Club.

In 2005, Earthworks Oil & Gas Accountability Project (OGAP) measured concentrations of hydrogren sulfide in the air in residntial areas of three Alabama counties and found levels hundreds or thousands times higher than than naturally occuring background levels. A year later, a study from a University of California, Berkeley researcher found similar results.

“This is good news for communities on the front lines of oil and gas development,” said Gwen Lachelt, director of  OGAP. “Knowing what we're being exposed to is the first step in protecting our health, and it's a basic right of all Americans.”