Editor's Note: 'Our Colorado' stories help natives and newcomers navigate the challenges related to our rapidly growing state, including real estate and development, homelessness, transportation and more. To comment on this or other 360 stories, email us at OurCO@TheDenverChannel.com . See more 'Our Colorado' stories here .
DENVER — Our Colorado is a boom state for oil and gas production and Erie mother and scientist Elizabeth Ewaskowitz is living it.
"I've got a total of 158 fracking wells within a one-mile radius of our home and school," she said.
Ewaskowitz now fears the wells are putting her son's health and safety in jeopardy.
"What it's showing for benzene, ethylbenzene, and o-xylene," she said. "How does a 6-year-old get to be in the 85th percentile for this? How? And what kind of health impact am I facing right now?"
Ewaskowitz said she paid a Lafayette doctor to conduct what's known as a VOC or volatile organic compounds blood level test on her son. The results showed her son is in the 85th percentile for benzene and two other cancer-causing chemicals (ethylbenzene and o-xylene).
Ewaskowitz is a scientist with a doctorate in pharmacology and neuroscience from CU Medical School in Denver. She said she decided to run the VOC test on her son to determine a baseline level for his exposure that she could then use to detect any elevated levels in the future.
"What I was unprepared for was seeing how high his baseline level is right now, and that is something I think is critical to look at from a mom but also as a scientist," she said.
Ewaskowitz presented her findings during public comment at the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Committee hearing Monday.
She filed a formal complaint with the COGCC, and they along with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment are investigating her results.
"I think I was surprised at how quickly they followed up, so I have been in communication with several of them," she said. "I'm a scientist who wants to be thoughtful about this. And I'm a mom who's trying really hard not to panic over the blood level results I've just found for my son."
“Just last month, we released [denverpost.com] a compilation of key health indicators and statements by Colorado’s top medical and health regulators that show no adverse health effects from oil and gas operations. Of course, it’s important to gather more information and data. But in the meantime, there are those who oppose oil and gas development and seek to link health impacts while more research is being conducted. That appears to be the case here once again," Rebecca Simons with the Energy Depth Mountain States said in a statement.
Benzene is a naturally-occurring part of crude oil and gasoline and is also something people are exposed to on a regular basis at gas stations or from smoking.
Ewaskowitz said she expected her son to have some exposure, but what she found is her worst-case scenario. She wants to find out what's causing it so she can protect her son.
"If it isn't the proximity of 158 wells that are within a one-mile radius of my home and my son's school then where would you say this level of exposure to this environmental carcinogen is coming from? Where?" she said.