The doctors tested for every nasty disease they could imagine – hantavirus, Legionnaires’ disease, others.
All the tests on Cathy Behr were negative. As the medical mystery deepened, her body began failing.
Finally, doctors at Mercy Regional Medical Center diagnosed a chemical exposure that happened in their own emergency room, where Behr works 12-hour shifts as a nurse. She had treated a sick gas-field worker and breathed the fumes on his clothes from a chemical called ZetaFlow for five or 10 minutes.
Behr has largely recovered, but her ordeal has the community asking fresh questions about the chemicals used to extract the area’s natural gas – the gas that heats millions of American homes and serves as an economic engine for the Four Corners.
ZetaFlow and similar chemicals are exempt from many federal and state environmental laws.
Few people know exactly what companies are pumping into the ground. It’s a trade secret, and the companies like Weatherford, which supplies ZetaFlow, do not share their recipes with government regulators.
A state agency wants that to change. The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission’s staff has proposed forcing companies to entrust the state with a list of all the chemicals they use to drill and operate a well. Energy companies oppose the plan, and the commission is scheduled to vote on the idea next month.
La Plata County commissioners support the proposed rule, but they want to strengthen it with greater protections for emergency workers. “This is a public health issue that must be addressed,” the commissioners said in a written statement.
EPA says not to worry
It’s difficult or nearly impossible to get information about what companies pump into the ground. The federal government, however, says the risk chemicals like ZetaFlow pose to water wells is minimal.
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