CHEYENNE -- Four out of five people who have returned health surveys report respiratory problems in a central Wyoming community where some residents say gas drilling has polluted their water wells, an environmental group said Wednesday.
Respondents also reported headaches, nausea, itchy skin, dizziness and other ailments, according to the Earthworks Oil and Gas Accountability Project.
Wilma Subra, a Louisiana chemist and environmentalist who has investigated oil and gas industry pollution worldwide, is conducting the survey. She said survey forms from the first 16 people -- more are coming in -- show a need for public health officials to investigate.
"It's critical to identify the health impacts and track them over time," Subra said.
A spokesman for Encana Oil & Gas, the company that's been developing gas in the Pavillion area, pointed out that the survey isn't comprehensive.
"It is a survey, not really a study," Doug Hock said. "Sixteen people, total."
Earthworks suggested in a news release that the respiratory ailments result from exposure while people shower or wash dishes with contaminated water. Subra said in her report that the various ailments residents reported are associated with contaminants the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has identified in Pavillion well water.
Hock said the EPA hasn't linked the contamination to gas development.
The EPA and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry plan to discuss their latest water sampling and health findings in the area at a meeting Aug. 31 in Pavillion.
"We, like the citizens of Pavillion, are awaiting those results," Hock said. "It's curious that these groups decided to come out with this just prior to a time when EPA is going to come out with a very comprehensive study."
The EPA has asked the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry to review Subra's survey, EPA spokesman Rich Mylott said.
One concern in the Pavillion area is hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking."
Fracking is a petroleum industry technique that pumps large amounts of water, sand and chemicals underground at high pressure to open fissures that improve the flow of oil and natural gas.
Some Pavillion residents say their water reeks of chemicals. The area has a history of oil and gas drilling but they say they had no problems with their well water until Encana began fracking in the area a few years ago.
The Pavillion contamination is just one of a handful of recent cases of pollution from oil and gas development causing problems in Wyoming, said Deb Thomas, with the Powder River Basin Resource Council.
She said the problem will only get worse if drilling picks up again in the state.
"My personal feeling is we are on the cusp of a public health crisis," Thomas said.