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Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Autism tied to air pollution. Can shale gas help?

Researchers from Harvard University’s School of Public Health have found that pregnant women exposed to high levels of diesel particulate or mercury pollution were twice as likely to have an autistic child compared with peers in low-pollution areas. The findings were published in Environmental Health Perspectives.

Now consider that emissions of mercury from burning natural gas for electricity generation are negligible. Particulate emissions from natgas vehicles are up to 90% lower than particulate emissions from diesel-fueled vehicles; however, natural gas may generate more ultra fine particles than diesel.  Tighter vehicle emissions and fuel standards, and the right emissions reduction technologies in the transport  sector - and, of course, the extent of conversion from diesel - are key to maximizing the public health benefits of natgas as a transport fuel, but those benefits appear to be considerable. Natgas production, too, must avoid air pollution if we are to achieve the biggest benefits.

Can natgas be a tool to reduce incidence of autism?  The answer to this question could present another inconvenient truth to opponents of shale gas development. 

The public health benefits of responsibly-produced, natgas-derived energy versus coal and diesel must be considered in any reasoned discussion about the place of shale gas in our energy mix, and our energy future.




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