On-the-job deaths high for oil, gas workers

The oil and gas extraction industry continues to be a dangerous place to work, with hundreds of U.S. laborers killed on the job over a six-year period, a new federal analysis finds.

Researchers with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health found that at least 470 workers died from occupational-related causes from 2014-2019. Almost a third of the workers died in vehicle-related incidents and 14% died from explosions. Another 22% of deaths involved contact injuries, such as being crushed or struck by an object. 

The deaths were unequal across job roles, according to the study, which was published in the Sept. 1 issue of Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report Surveillance Summaries. Well-servicing workers — who make repairs, prevent blockages, adjust valves and carry out other upkeep work on wells — accounted for two-thirds of the deaths, followed by drilling contractors and operators.

Deaths also varied by region. A third of the deaths occurred in the Permian Basin, which is located mainly in West Texas and accounts for 40% of all U.S. oil production. Almost 16% of the deaths occurred in the Western Gulf Basin, which is located primarily in southern Texas and Louisiana, and 9% were in the Appalachian Basin.

Because oil and gas extraction workers often travel long distances to get to and from work, the study included commuting deaths in its tally of vehicle incidents. High driving speeds and a low rate of seat belt use among the workers contributed to the deaths, the researchers said.

Job-related death rates for oil and gas extraction workers have historically been seven times higher than for all U.S. workers, the study noted. Although oil and gas extraction workers made up 70% of the U.S. mining workforce in 2019, they accounted for about 82% of all fatalities.

The study used findings from the Fatalities in Oil and Gas Extraction database, a NIOSH surveillance system that collected data through 2019, when grant funding ended.

PFAS exposure higher for Asian Americans

Asian Americans are at higher risk for exposure to potentially harmful “forever chemicals,” a new study shows. 

Published Aug. 24 in Environmental Science and Technology, the study found that Asian Americans have significantly higher exposure to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, also known as PFAS, than people from other racial and ethnic groups. The median exposure score for Asian Americans was 89% higher than for white U.S. residents, the Mount Sinai-led research team said. 

People with higher household incomes also had higher scores for PFAS exposure.

The higher risk exposure was not found for all people of color: For Hispanic Americans, the median PFAS exposure score was 31% lower than that of white Americans, while the exposure score was level between Black and white people. 

PFAS, which have been linked to cancer and developmental problems, are of concern because they do not break down easily in humans or the environment. The chemicals have been used in non-stick cookware coatings, furniture stain protectors, food packaging, firefighting foam and other products.

Because PFAS is so common, it is difficult to pinpoint why some people have higher exposure, the researchers said. But they suggested dietary and occupational sources may play a role.

White subsidized renters pay less for better housing

Black and Hispanic people in the U.S. who receive rent subsidies pay more for housing than their white peers and live in worse conditions, a new study says.

Researchers examined data from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development on government-subsidized housing across the U.S., finding widespread inequalities. 

For example, white renters lived in homes with fewer unsafe and unsanitary conditions — such as mold, rodent infestation, broken windows or sewage problems — than their Black, Hispanic, American Indian and Alaska Native counterparts. 

White subsidized renters were also charged less for their higher-quality housing. Hispanic residents paid 25% more for rent and utilities than whites, while Asian and Black renters paid 17% more.

Black and Hispanic people with housing subsidies also lived in neighborhoods that were more racially isolated when compared with white renters, according to the study, which was published Aug. 26 in Socius: Sociological Research for a Dynamic World.

More 10 million people, including seniors, veterans and people with disabilities, receive federal housing subsidies.

Drinking, gun-carrying in youth linked

Rural youth who regularly consume a lot of alcohol are more likely to carry guns, according to a recent study.

Researchers looked at survey data from youth and young adults that was collected annually over 15 years. They found that rural youth ages 12-18 who were heavy drinkers had a 43% greater probability of carrying a handgun in the following year than their peers who did not drink as much. Heavy drinking was defined as having five or more drinks in a row at least once in the past two weeks.

 The association between heavy drinking and gun-carrying also held true for young adults ages 19-26, who were 38% more likely than their peers to keep a gun on their person, the Journal of Rural Health study found.

Previous research has found that both alcohol use and gun-carrying are more common among U.S. youth who live in rural areas. 

While the new study did not examine whether gun-carrying translated into gun violence, recent studies have found gun-related deaths are on the rise among youth. Gun-related suicides in particular have climbed among adolescents and rural residents.

Gun violence, which is the leading cause of death for U.S. children and teens, claimed more than 4,700 young lives in 2021, another August study found.

Hog farming emissions reach at-risk populations

Vulnerable populations are disproportionately exposed to higher levels of air pollutants from hog farming in North Carolina’s Duplin County, new research finds.

With more than 10 million hogs in the state’s massive swine production industry, environmental pollution has long been a concern in the state. But the new study, published Aug. 24 in Environmental Health Perspectives, found that not all people are exposed equally. 

Compared to the average Duplin County resident, non-English speakers had 66% higher exposure to gaseous ammonia and hydrogen sulfide emissions from hog waste storage pits. Exposure was 32% higher for people who had less than a high school education, 16% higher for people of color and 13% higher for people with low incomes. Duplin County, which has a population of almost 49,000, is in the southeastern part of North Carolina. About 25% of its residents are Black and 24% are Hispanic.

The largest concentrated animal feeding operations in the county, with as many as 53,000 hogs, were located primarily in census block groups where more than half of the residents were people of color. 

Prior research has found that air, water and soil contamination from swine production is associated with respiratory and cardiovascular illness and lower quality of life for nearby residents.