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Air pollution in Utah may contribute to school absences

Health problems are a known contributor to absenteeism, and Wasatch Front students miss class at soaring rates when pollution levels are at their highest.

That’s according to an analysis of attendance records by The Salt Lake Tribune in collaboration with Brigham Young University economist Arden Pope, one of the world’s leading pollution scientists.

The Tribune obtained daily counts of school absences in 2012 and 2013 at four school districts — Salt Lake, Provo and Alpine, where residents endure winter bouts of unhealthy air, and Park City, which rests above the valley haze.

An oil boom is underway at the Eagle Ford Shale in Karnes County, Texas, but the development is diminishing the quality of life of the inhabitants of the rural county and possibly endangering their health, according to reporting by the Center for Public Integrity, InsideClimate News and the Weather Channel.

Residents' complaints are going unaddressed and air quality monitoring is patchy. Though officials have said there is no cause for worry, experts say that the lack of monitoring and research into the health effects of pollutants has resulted in a poor understanding of how oil and gas development impact public health.

Compounding these weaknesses is the political backing of oil interests in the state with many industry regulatory officials doubling as its strongest supporters.

Spills releasing PCE, the cancer-causing chemical used in dry cleaning and metal degreasing, have produced at least 86 underground plumes across Colorado that are poisoning soil and water and fouling air inside buildings.

Cleaning up this chemical is a nightmare — a lesson in the limits of repairing environmental harm. The best that Colorado health enforcers and responsible parties have been able to do is keep the PCE they know about from reaching people.

But based on a review of Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment case files, people likely have been exposed.

West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection officials never reviewed two key pollution-prevention plans for the Freedom Industries tank farm before the Jan. 9 chemical leak that contaminated drinking water for 300,000 residents, according to interviews and documents obtained under the state's public-records law.

"West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection officials never reviewed two key pollution-prevention plans for the Freedom Industries tank farm before the Jan. 9 chemical leak that contaminated drinking water for 300,000 residents, according to interviews and documents obtained under the state's public-records law," The Charleston Gazette reports. Read the full story here.

There’s been a lot of great reporting coming out of West Virginia recently as reporters continue to cover a chemical spill that contaminated water for about 300,000 people. National publications investigated the lax government oversight and toothless regulations that applied – or, perhaps, failed to apply – to Freedom Industries.

But let’s not forget the local reporters, the folks working at the Charleston (W. Va) Gazette, who have been chronicling the spill from the front lines. Every day they seem to unearth new, grim details about the leak. Instead of one big story, they’ve steadily covered the water crisis with daily articles that provide a wealth of important information for local readers.

Here are few stories that deserve recognition:

The Wall Street Journal reports that "the site of a West Virginia chemical spill that contaminated the water supply for 300,000 people operated largely outside government oversight, highlighting gaps in regulations and prompting questions on whether local communities have a firm grasp on potential threats to drinking water."

"When the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency declared that a group of Texas homes near a gas-drilling operation didn’t have dangerous levels of methane in their water, it relied on tests conducted by the driller itself," Bloomberg Sustainability reports. Read the full story here.

Don't believe the signs city officials have posted at the four outfall spots that dump raw sewage into the Potomac River. The truth is much worse.

In cases from Wyoming to Arkansas, Pennsylvania to Texas, drillers have agreed to cash settlements or property buyouts with people who say hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, ruined their water, according to a review by Bloomberg News of hundreds of regulatory and legal filings. In most cases, homeowners must agree to keep quiet.

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