Modeling potential occupational inhalation exposures and associated risks of toxic organics from chemical storage tanks used in hydraulic fracturing using AERMOD

Environ Pollut. 2017 May;224:300-309. doi: 10.1016/j.envpol.2017.02.008. Epub 2017 Feb 21.


Various toxic chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing fluids may influence the inherent health risks associated with these operations. This study investigated the possible occupational inhalation exposures and potential risks related to the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from chemical storage tanks and flowback pits used in hydraulic fracturing. Potential risks were evaluated based on radial distances between 5 m and 180 m from the wells for 23 contaminants with known inhalation reference concentration (RfC) or inhalation unit risks (IUR). Results show that chemicals used in 12.4% of the wells posed a potential acute non-cancer risks for exposure and 0.11% of the wells with may provide chronic non-cancer risks for exposure. Chemicals used in 7.5% of the wells were associated with potential acute cancer risks for exposure. Those chemicals used in 5.8% of the wells may be linked to chronic cancer risks for exposure. While eight organic compounds were associated with acute non-cancer risks for exposure (>1), methanol the major compound in the chemical storage tanks (1.00-45.49) in 7,282 hydraulic fracturing wells. Wells with chemicals additives containing formaldehyde exhibited both acute and chronic cancer risks for exposure with IUR greater than 10-6, suggesting formaldehyde was the dominant contributor to both types of risks for exposure in hydraulic fracturing. This study also found that due to other existing on-site emission sources of VOCs and the geographically compounded air concentrations from other surrounding wells, chemical emissions data from storage tanks and flowback pits used in this study were lower than reported concentrations from field measurements where higher occupational inhalation risks for exposure may be expected.

Keywords: AERMOD; Chemical storage tanks; Hydraulic fracturing; Occupational inhalation exposure; Volatile organic compounds.

MeSH terms

  • Environmental Monitoring*
  • Environmental Pollutants / adverse effects*
  • Environmental Pollutants / chemistry
  • Humans
  • Hydraulic Fracking* / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Inhalation Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Occupational Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Occupational Exposure / statistics & numerical data*
  • Risk Assessment
  • United States
  • Volatile Organic Compounds / adverse effects*
  • Volatile Organic Compounds / analysis


  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Volatile Organic Compounds