Study finds toxins in Dish residents' blood, urine

A sampling of results of blood and urine tests on residents of Dish suggest that their bodies contain some of the same toxic chemicals found in the small Denton County community's air and water, a Louisiana chemist says.

But a state health official said the tests revealed no pattern of elevated contamination and cautioned against jumping to conclusions.

"We didn't find one element that was elevated in everyone," said Allison Lowery, a Texas Department of State Health Services spokeswoman.

State health officials took blood and urine samples from 28 people in January after more than a year of complaints from residents about the environmental impact of several large natural gas compressors and Barnett Shale natural gas wells.

Residents started receiving their results late last week. Wilma Subra, the chemist who has worked closely with the town since it paid to test its air quality last year, said she reviewed the results of five of the 28 residents.

Among the findings were one resident who had 0.013 micrograms of trichloroethylene per liter of blood, which is just above the national benchmark of less than 0.012, she said. Trichloroethylene, also known as TCE, is a cleaning solvent that can damage the human nervous system at high levels.

Furthermore, urine test results for all five people revealed metabolites for 1, 3 Butadiene, Toluene and N,N-Dimethylformamide. All three chemicals, as well as TCE, were found in air samples taken in Dish, Subra said.

There are no recognized standards to determine what are safe levels to find in the urine, she said. However, "to me, it shows that the people of Dish are being exposed," Subra said.

Lowery, the state health spokeswoman, said that chemicals can enter people's blood from a variety of everyday exposures. The chemical that has most raised health concern related to drilling in the Barnett Shale is benzene.

The tests found elevated levels of benzene only in the samples of smokers, for whom such levels would be expected, Lowery said.

Of the 28 people tested, about half had lower than average levels of the contaminants, she said. The others had some slightly elevated levels, but the results have no apparent pattern.

Concerns continue

Dish Mayor Calvin Tillman, who asked Subra to review the results, said that even if they did not find contamination levels that suggest eminent danger, he sees cause for concern.

"We don't know how long we have been exposed to this," he said. "And it tells me the we are being exposed, and whatever it going on, [the toxins] are not staying on their side of the fence."

The fact that none of the tests were performed on children was also worrisome, he said.

"Our bodies can handle these things a lot better than theirs," he said.

State epidemiologists took blood and urine samples from Dish residents during the fourth weekend in January, Lowery said. The samples were sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to be tested for 13 contaminants. Those results are now being analyzed by the state health department's staff and compared with the average levels found in people throughout the United States, Lowery said.

Full report coming

The department had hoped to test 50 randomly selected residents from in and around Dish but had trouble finding that many willing to participate, Lowery said. After sending letters, making phone calls and knocking on doors, the state was able to get only 28.

Lowery said a full report based on the state's testing will come out within the next three weeks.

"We encourage everyone to take a look at our full report," Lowery said. "We don't want anyone jumping to conclusions based on the individual results."

ALEX BRANCH, 817-390-7689

AMAN BATHEJA, 817-390-7695