Earthquakes, man-made seismic events can release air pollutants

| by Ken Nelson
Earthquakes, man-made seismic events can release air pollutants

Wrecked buildings and damaged infrastructure aren’t the only worries for victims of the August 24 earthquake in the Napa Valley region of California. The quake, the strongest to hit the state in 25 years, also created the potential for a massive release of airborne pollutants. As residents begin to return home and, hopefully, to normal, they should be as thoughtful of the air they are breathing as they are of the structures they are re-inhabiting.

“An earthquake may also release large amounts of dust and it could contain asbestos and lead in older properties. New cracks in foundations and basements may also allow for radon or chemicals in the soil and groundwater to begin infiltrating into buildings,” said Franco Seif , president of Clark Seif Clark, a provider of air-quality testing services and products. 

Naturally occurring earthquakes aren’t the only impact on the ground that may result in the release of airborne particulate pollutants. Increasingly, the natural-gas extraction method known as “fracking” is under the microscope of public attention.

Fracking also is known as horizontal drilling. According to

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is the process of extracting natural gas from shale rock layers deep within the earth. … Horizontal drilling (along with traditional vertical drilling) allows for the injection of highly pressurized fracking fluids into the shale area. This creates new channels within the rock from which natural gas is extracted at higher than traditional rates. This drilling process can take up to a month, while the drilling teams delve more than a mile into the Earth’s surface.

Without even beginning to debate the potential value of the natural gas, critics of fracking cite the risk of ground-water contamination and earthquakes as a result of the injection of the fluids and the drilling required to use them.

An abstract of a study published in July on  says high-production states in the United States, such as Oklahoma, face sharply rising numbers of earthquakes. The area around Jones, Okla., has experience more than 2,500 temblors over the past five years (not all of them perceptible by humans). Oklahoma has a whole so far in 2014 has had more earthquakes than California.

The anti-fracking community cites not only gasses released by the quakes but air pollution related generally to fracking as capable of causing adverse birth outcomes including congenital heart defects, sinus problems, eye burning, severe headaches, persistent cough and skin rashes.

For most Americans, it’s easy to think of earthquakes and fracking largely as the problem of other parts of country. But small earthquakes happen far more frequently that we ground-dwellers realizes, and even when there is no disruption to the terra firma, accelerated gasses such as radon can seep from the surface and threaten our health.

As we often write about in this blog, the best protection—ironcially—is to bring into your home or workplace a fresh supply of outside air. While logic would say that more air from outdoors increases the number of pollutants in our home, in actuality, it prevents the build up of them in a closed environment.

For information on the extraction of radon gas, read our post here.

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Topics: Indoor Air Quality, Ventilation

Companies: Panasonic High Performance Ventilation Solutions

Ken Nelson
Ken Nelson is the Northwest Regional Sales Manager for the Panasonic Eco Products Division, specializing in ventilation solutions for residential and multi-family living environments. Over the past four years, Ken has spoken throughout the Northwest, teaching and training builders, building science advocates and professionals on the physics of moisture and air movement in homes of all sizes, types and age. View Ken Nelson's profile on LinkedIn

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