Paonia scientist honored for study of gas drilling

A Paonia scientist who has raised concerns about possible chemical-related health effects of natural gas development received an international award this week.

Theo Colborn received the Göteborg Award for Sustainable Development, an honor bestowed last year on Al Gore and the previous year on engineers behind Toyota’s Prius hybrid vehicle.

The award, handed out Wednesday, is given by the city of Göteborg, Sweden, and several companies. The award amounts to 1 million Swedish crowns, or about $128,000 U.S. dollars.

It is being shared by Colborn and three fellow recipients, all Swedes. All were recognized for their roles in examining and addressing negative health and environmental effects of chemicals.

Colborn, who is in her 80s, is the founder of The Endocrine Disruption Exchange, a Paonia-based nonprofit. TDEX works on providing scientific evidence regarding the health and environmental harms of chemicals that interfere with hormones important in the development of people and wildlife. The 1996 book she coauthored on the subject, “Our Stolen Future,” drew comparisons to Rachel Carson’s landmark 1962 environmental book, “Silent Spring.” Gore wrote the foreword to Colborn’s book.

In 2002, Colborn began living full-time in a home she owns in Paonia. When an energy company began talking about drilling on the nearby Grand Mesa, she became concerned about the possible impacts of drilling-related fluids on groundwater quality. In particular, she worried about chemicals in fluids injected underground to fracture wells and boost gas flow.

She became involved in efforts that included creating a spreadsheet of chemicals used in drilling and their potential ill effects.

Duke Cox, a member of community activitst group Western Colorado Congress, got to know Colborn through his activism in seeking better protections against natural gas development impacts in western Colorado. He said sometimes industry representatives would try to write off Colborn as “an old crackpot.”

“That’s never been the case. She’s brilliant and has done some groundbreaking work in endocrinology,” he said.

He called Colborn “a wonderful person” and was happy to learn of her award.

“I’m very proud of her. That’s just delightful to hear,” Cox said.


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