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The extraction, processing and transportation of natural gas has serious implications for public health.

Each year, the national network of drilling sites, pipelines and compressor stations releases tons of toxic pollutants - made up of 70 different chemicals - into the environment.  These 70 chemicals are linked to 19 of 20 major categories of human disease.

Health care providers practicing in or near areas where compressor stations are operating should be aware of the chemicals being emitted, and the possible health impacts of exposure to those chemicals for their adult and pediatric patients. 


A natural gas compressor station located in Stony Point, New York.

What are compressor stations?

Natural gas compressor stations, located every 50-60 miles along natural gas pipelines, help push the gas through the pipeline to the next station. During normal operations, they emit a mixture of chemical toxins into the air that are known to impact human health.

These toxins can be carried downwind from the compressor station to residents in surrounding areas, impacting people living within a six mile radius of the compressor station, or in some cases, a greater distance, depending on weather conditions and terrain.  Emissions can include particulate matter, nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds including benzene, toluene, hexane, xylene and formaldehyde.

Emissions occur continuously during normal operations, as hazardous pollutants carried with the gas are vented or leak from equipment. Some emissions can also occur during routine maintenance operations such as “blowdowns” when large amounts of chemical contaminants are released into the air intentionally.

What are the health impacts?

Emissions from natural gas compressor stations are known to cause both acute and chronic health impacts. Some occur at a relatively steady rate, while others occur in episodic peaks. Weather conditions and wind direction may affect an individual’s actual exposure. As a result of these factors, acute health symptoms may be persistent, episodic or temporary.

The episodic intense peak exposures, which may last for minutes to several hours, can precipitate acute health symptoms, even though the total emissions averaged over a 24-hour or longer period can appear to be much less.

Exposure to the air contaminants increase an individual’s risk for the development of or worsening of pre-existing respiratory or cardiovascular disease. In addition, some of the contaminants have adverse neurologic effects; others are carcinogenic.

As with other forms of air pollution, those at increased risk include children, developing fetuses, the elderly, and individuals with chronic respiratory or cardiovascular disease.

Acute health effects from short-term exposures:

  • Headache

  • Dizziness

  • Fatigue

  • Insomnia

  • Confusion

  • Nausea

  • Skin Irritation

  • Eye & throat irritation

  • Acute respiratory problems

  • COPD and asthma exacerbation

  • Memory problems

  • Acute cardiac events

  • Chest pain

  • Coughing

Chronic health impacts from long-term exposures:

  • Anemia

  • Lung and other respiratory cancers

  • Leukemia and lymphoma

  • Breast and genital cancers

  • Bladder and urinary cancers

  • Bone cancer

  • Lip and other oral cancers

  • Endocrine disruption

  • Permanent neurological problems

The information in this pamphlet is based on "Air Emissions from Natural Gas Facilities in New York State," a study by Pasquale Russo and Dr. David Carpenter, published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 2019, and "Safety Assessment of Siting Large Scale Gas Compressor Stations in Residential Neighborhoods in New York State," a technical report prepared by the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project, a non-profit organization of medical professionals and public health scientists.  

​For more information please visit:
Grassroots Environmental Education
184 Main Street
Port Washington, NY 11050
(516) 883-0887

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