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Study finds flaring and venting at industrial plants cause 2 premature deaths daily in US: 'The health impacts are significant'

This is not just a problem for people living in oil and gas-producing states.

This is not just a problem for people living in oil and gas-producing states.

Photo Credit: iStock

Processes used by industrial plants to get rid of excess natural gas cause two premature deaths each day in the United States, Inside Climate News reported.

What's happening?

Flaring and venting are two methods that facilities like oil refineries and electrical power plants use to burn off or release natural gas. A new study published in GeoHealth has revealed that these practices not only pollute the air but also lead to the premature death of two Americans every day.

The team also found that health burdens from flaring and venting disproportionately impact Hispanic and Indigenous communities.

"This study demonstrates that the health impacts are significant," Hillary Hull, one of the researchers and director of research and analytics at the Environmental Defense Fund, told Inside Climate News. "We hope that this spurs more research in this area."

Why is the study concerning?

The paper's authors found that flaring and venting led to an uptick in emergency room visits among nearby residents and contributed to 73,000 asthma exacerbations in children each year. All of these health effects cost the economy about $7.4 billion annually due to lost work time and other factors. 

About half a million Americans live within three miles of oil and gas plants that use venting and flaring, according to Inside Climate News. When corporations engage in these practices, it releases harmful pollutants like fine particulate matter (PM 2.5), ozone, and nitrogen oxides.

However, this is not just a problem for people living in oil and gas-producing states. For example, wind can carry the pollutants to densely populated cities like New York and Chicago, the researchers said.

PM 2.5 has been correlated with a number of adverse health impacts, including increased risk of heart attack or death from heart disease. One study even found that children exposed to this type of pollution performed worse on tests.

Meanwhile, nitrogen oxides are not traditionally assessed in health impact assessments, but the new study found that these gases contributed to roughly 120 of the 710 flaring and venting-related deaths each year.

Flaring is not the only source of harmful air pollution. One study found that people living in areas with high levels of traffic-related air pollution, specifically PM2.5, are more likely to develop plaques in the brain associated with Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia.

In addition to all of these negative health impacts, air pollution from oil and gas contributes to the warming of our planet, which carries a slew of other consequences like hotter temperatures, more severe droughts, more frequent and severe storms, food scarcity, spread of certain diseases, and more.

What's being done about air pollution?

To reduce our risk, it's vital to lessen our dependence on dirty energy. To that end, a number of governments are making progress. For instance, Wales is banning most new roadway projects to cut down on pollution and one New York law will require all Lyfts and Ubers to be EVs by the year 2030.

As for venting and flaring, the Environmental Protection Agency in late 2023 issued a final rule to reduce methane and other pollution from oil and natural gas operations. Among other things, the so-called "methane rule" requires these industries to phase out the routine flaring of natural gas from new oil wells. States now have two years to finalize their plans.

Meanwhile, if you live in an area that is experiencing harmful pollution, you can protect yourself by staying indoors when possible and using a HEPA filter.

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