WV Among Top States for Public Health Harms from Fossil Fuels

Nadia Ramlagan

Ozone, fine particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide from the oil and gas sector in 2016 caused more than $77 billion in human health damages nationwide, according to a recent study published in the journal Environmental Research.

Morgan King, climate campaign coordinator with the West Virginia Rivers Coalition, said the study also found that same year, oil and gas air pollution contributed to almost 200 early deaths in the Mountain State alone – the second highest rate in the country.

“Basically,” said King, “West Virginia is kind of bearing the brunt of oil and gas pollution more than most other states.”

The study’s researchers also estimate air pollution from fossil fuels contributed to more than 10,000 worsened asthma conditions among West Virginia children.

King noted that the Environmental Protection Agency is in the process of finalizing nationwide oil and gas methane regulations aimed at curbing climate change, air pollution, and negative impacts on communities – but so far the rules don’t clamp down on flaring, the process of burning off methane during extraction.

West Virginia is a significant producer of methane, or natural gas. King said the high level of production means more residents are vulnerable to health problems.

“Even though we don’t have highly dense cities, more than half of West Virginians live within a mile of an oil and gas well,” said King. “And so because of that high proportion of our state’s population living so close to this development, we’re going to see more health impacts than other places.”

According to the American Lung Association, communities of color and low-income communities are at greater risk for health impacts from air pollution – and in one study of more than 13 million Medicare recipients, low socioeconomic status consistently increase the risk of premature death from exposure to fine particle pollution.