Press Releases

Physicians for Social Responsibility, Health and Science Experts Call on Obama, Surgeon General & Governors of Maryland, Pennsylvania to Stop Fracking, Citing National Health Impacts

Press Releases

 Nobel Peace Prize-Winning Org Partner with Concerned Health Professionals of New York to Release New Comprehensive Report and Analysis of Hundreds of Peer-Reviewed Studies Showing Fracking Cannot Be Done Safely

Groups send letters about health impacts and calling for moratorium

WASHINGTON, DC (Wednesday, October 14) – A partnership of prominent health organizations encompassing nationwide medical and public health experts and scientists released the third edition of their Compendium of Scientific, Medical, and Media Findings Demonstrating Risks and Harms of Fracking on Wednesday. The Compendium compiles and summarizes hundreds of peer-reviewed studies and other important findings on fracking, showing the significance and extent of the evidence demonstrating risks to public health, air and water quality, birth and infant health, the environment, and climate change.

Physicians for Social Responsibility, a Nobel Peace Prize-winning organization of physicians, nurses, and other public health professionals, joined with Concerned Health Professionals of New York to send letters with the report to President Obama and the Surgeon General, and the governors of Pennsylvania and Maryland, highlighting the significant health risks and calling for a moratorium on fracking.

Barbara Gottlieb, Director, Environment & Health, Physicians for Social Responsibility, said, “Our new report compiles and summarizes hundreds of peer-reviewed studies and other important findings on fracking, showing overwhelming evidence that drilling and fracking pose serious threats to public health, our environment, and the climate. Physicians for Social Responsibility is joining with our colleagues in sending the scientific evidence to President Obama and state leaders, calling for moratoria or bans on fracking to protect public health.”

In compiling the evidence pertaining to the impacts of drilling, fracking, and associated infrastructure, the Compendium offers a unique birds-eye view of the growing body of evidence, which includes more than 500 peer-reviewed scientific papers, as well as numerous government reports and findings from investigative journalism. This broader view of the science is crucial in understanding the scope of the risks and harms to public health and the environment. The Compendium is organized into 17 categories, and is designed to be accessible to policymakers, researchers, journalists, and the public.

Major areas of risks and harms identified in the compilation of the science include: public health impacts, air pollution, water contamination, occupational health and safety hazards, radioactive releases, inherent engineering problems, impacts from associated infrastructure, and climate change impacts.

The two organizations released letters to President Obama and the Surgeon General asking them to acknowledge the health risks of fracking and requesting a meeting to discuss the scientific evidence and how the groups can work together with them to protect the public health and safety of Americans. The groups also sent letters with the Compendium to the governors and state health and environment agency leaders in Pennsylvania and Maryland calling for moratoria or bans on fracking given the public health risks and other impacts.

Dr. Kathleen Nolan, MD, MLS, of Concerned Health Professionals of New York, said, “The scientific evidence is irrefutable – fracking is dangerous and cannot be conducted safely anywhere in the U.S. Based on the findings of hundreds of peer-reviewed studies, New York State’s ban not only makes sense: it is necessary to protect our residents’ health and safety. More states should follow New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s lead and keep fracking out of their communities.”

“Today we have more research than ever, showing the irreparable harm fracking can have on our air and water quality, the soil where we grow our food, and our overall wellbeing,” said Sandra Steingraber, PhD, distinguished scholar in residence at Ithaca College and member of Concerned Health Professionals of New York. “As healthcare workers and scientists, it is our responsibility to call for our elected officials to do what’s best for our communities and halt this dangerous process.”

In Pennsylvania, which has had hundreds of cases of water contamination from drilling and fracking and a range of health problems, Walter Tsou, MD, former president of Philadelphia Physicians for Social Responsibility, past president of the American Public Health Association and former health commissioner of Philadelphia, said, “Drilling and fracking in Pennsylvania have caused widespread water contamination, dangerous air pollution, and serious public health impacts. Given the considerable weight of the scientific evidence showing harm, Governor Wolf should enact a moratorium on fracking to protect public health.”

Notably, the Compendium corroborates and extends another, separate expert organization’s analysis of the peer-reviewed science, with similar findings. PSE Healthy Energy has established a database of all peer-reviewed studies, and has analyzed the growth in scientific research related to fracking, documenting the portion of studies showing risks and adverse impacts. They found that more than half of all available studies have been published since January, 2014, and the vast majority reveal serious risks. Among original research on human health risks, 84 percent of studies found signs of harm or potential harm, 88 percent of studies on air quality found elevated air pollutant emissions, and 69 percent of original research studies on water quality found evidence of or potential for water contamination.

Since the release of the first edition of the Compendium in July 2014, concerns about and opposition to fracking have grown. In December 2014, the New York State Department of Health released its own years-long review of the health impacts of fracking, which served as the foundation for a statewide ban, along with an environmental review finding significant impacts. Following New York’s ban, Maryland overwhelmingly passed a two-and-a-half year moratorium on fracking. Internationally, both Scotland and Wales imposed moratoria on fracking in January and February 2015, respectively, and in July 2015 the Dutch government banned all shale gas fracking, joining a range of countries and provinces in prohibiting the practice including Bulgaria, France, Germany, Ireland, Netherlands and parts of Canada, Spain and Switzerland.

In June 2015, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released a draft version of its study of the impacts of fracking on drinking water. The agency found that fracking had polluted drinking water in several communities nationwide and identified several “potential mechanisms by which hydraulic fracturing could affect drinking water resources.”

Given the continuous growth in research, the Compendium is designed as a living document that is publicly available on the websites for Physicians for Social Responsibility and Concerned Health Professionals of New York.

Based on a review of the evidence, the Compendium identifies 10 emerging trends:

1) Growing evidence shows that regulations are simply not capable of preventing harm. Studies reveal inherent problems in the natural gas extraction process, such as well integrity failures caused by aging or the pressures of fracking itself. These issues can lead to contamination, air pollution with carcinogens and other toxic chemicals, and a range of environmental and other stressors wrought on communities. Some of fracking’s many component parts—which include the subterranean geological landscape itself—are simply not controllable. Compounding the problem, the number of wells and their attendant infrastructure continue to proliferate, creating burgeoning cumulative impacts.

As reported in studies published last March, the injection of extreme volumes of fluids—now typically three to five million gallons or more per well—create significant deformations in the shale that are translated upwards, a mile or more, to the surface. Along the way, these “pressure bulbs” can impact in unpredictable ways faults and fissures in the overlying rock strata, including strata that intersect fresh water aquifers. Such pressure waves may mobilize contaminants left over from previous drilling and mining activities. (See footnotes 93 and 94.) No set of regulations can obviate these potential impacts to groundwater. Furthermore, in July, the state of California determined that fracking can have “significant and unavoidable” impacts on air quality, including by driving pollutants above levels that violate air quality standards. (See footnote 2.) According to the New York State Findings Statement, “Even with the implementation of an extensive suite of mitigation measures…the significant adverse public health and environmental impacts from allowing high-volume hydraulic fracturing to proceed under any scenario cannot be adequately avoided or minimized to the maximum extent practicable….” (See footnote 199.)

2) Fracking threatens drinking water. Cases of drinking water sources contaminated by drilling and fracking activities, as well as associated waste disposal, are now proven. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) assessment of fracking’s impacts on drinking water resources confirmed specific instances of water contamination caused by drilling and fracking-related activities and identified the various pathways by which this contamination has occurred. According to the EPA, documented cases of drinking water contamination have resulted from spills of fracking fluid and fracking wastewater; discharge of fracking waste into rivers and streams; and underground migration of fracking chemicals, including gas, into drinking water wells. Independently, researchers working in Texas found 19 different fracking-related contaminants—including cancer-causing benzene—in hundreds of drinking water samples collected from the aquifer above the heavily drilled Barnett Shale, thereby documenting widespread water contamination. In Pennsylvania, a solvent used in fracking fluid was found in drinking water wells near drilling and fracking operations known to have well casing problems. In California, state regulators admitted that they had mistakenly allowed oil companies to inject drilling wastewater into aquifers containing clean, potable water. (See footnotes 2, 79, 81, and 83.)

3) Drilling and fracking emissions contribute to toxic air pollution and smog (ground-level ozone) at levels known to have health impacts. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation determined that fracking could increase ozone levels in downwind areas of the state, potentially impacting the ability to maintain air quality that meets ozone standards. (See footnote 199.) Air near gas wells in rural Ohio had levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons that surpassed those in downtown Chicago. They were also ten times higher than the levels found in rural areas without fracking operations, raising the lifetime risk of cancer for residents living near the well pads by 45 percent. (See footnote 8.) Two independent reports from California determined that fracking occurs disproportionately in areas already suffering from serious air quality problems and can drive ozone and other federally regulated air pollutants to levels that violate air quality standards. (See footnotes 1 and 2.) This increased air pollution and smog formation poses a serious risk to all those already suffering from respiratory issues, such as children with asthma. With an average of 203 high-ozone days a year, intensely fracked Kern County, California, is the fifth-most ozone-polluted county in the nation, according to the American Lung Association.

4) Public health problems associated with drilling and fracking, including occupational health and safety problems, are increasingly well documented. Among residents living near drilling and fracking operations, documented indicators variously include increased rates of hospitalization, self-reported respiratory problems and rashes, motor vehicle fatalities, trauma, drug abuse, and low birth weight among infants. As we go to press, a new study from Johns Hopkins University finds a 40 percent increase in the risk of preterm birth among infants born to mothers who live nearby active drilling and fracking sites in Pennsylvania.* Among workers, risks include both toxic exposures and accidents. Benzene has been detected in the urine of wellpad workers in Colorado and Wyoming. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health named oil and gas extraction industry workers among those at risk for silicosis, an incurable lung disease caused by exposure to silica dust, from the silica sand that is used extensively in fracking operations. Fatality rates among workers in the oil and gas extraction sector in North Dakota were seven times the national fatality rates in this industry, which itself has more deaths from fires and explosions than any other private industry. An increase in workplace deaths has accompanied the fracking boom in West Virginia. As we go to press, a new census from the Bureau of Labor Statistics finds that the number of fatal work injuries in oil and gas extraction industries rose 27 percent between 2013 and 2014.**

5) Natural gas is a bigger threat to the climate than previously believed. Methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas than formerly appreciated. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change now estimates that, over a 20-year time frame, methane can, pound for pound, trap 86 times more heat than carbon dioxide.*** Further, real-world leakage rates greatly exceed earlier estimates. In the heavily drilled Barnett Shale of northeastern Texas, methane emissions were shown to be 50 percent higher than the EPA had estimated. Fracking operations and associated infrastructure contribute 71 to 85 percent of the methane emissions in the region. Researchers discovered that much of these emissions originated not from accidental leaks but from losses that are inherent to the design of the machinery or to normal operating use and are therefore not possible to mitigate. Methane leakage at the levels now being documented (by multiple approaches in measurement and modeling) negates and outweighs previously hypothesized benefits from burning methane instead of coal in most existing power plants. As we go to press, a new study confirms that a commonly used instrument to quantify methane leakage has unreliable sensors and malfunctions in ways that vastly underreport emissions by factors of three to five. More than 40 percent of the compiled national methane inventory may be affected by this measurement failure, according to the author of this study.*At this writing, the implications of this discovery for our understanding of system-wide methane leakage rates from drilling and fracking operations are not known, but they do call into question the results of at least one major study of methane emissions that relied on this device for collecting data.

6) Earthquakes are a consequence of drilling and fracking-related activities in many locations. In the past few months, several major studies have confirmed a causal link between the injection of fracking wastewater in disposal wells and earthquake swarms. The evidence is strong enough that the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled unanimously in June that homeowners can sue the oil and gas industry for injuries or property damage resulting from earthquakes. The number of earthquakes of magnitude 3.0 or higher has skyrocketed in Oklahoma since the advent of the fracking boom, with fewer than two per year before 2009 and more than 1,100 predicted to occur in 2015. (See footnote 321.) Evidence now also shows that the process of fracking itself can trigger small earthquakes, as several confirmed cases in Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas, the United Kingdom, and Canada demonstrate. (See footnote 199.) 

7) Fracking infrastructure poses serious potential exposure risks to those living near it. Drilling and fracking activities are temporary operations, but compressor stations are semi-permanent facilities that pollute the air 24 hours a day as long as gas is flowing through the pipeline. As documented by a Pennsylvania study published in February 2015, day-to-day emissions from compressor stations are highly episodic and can create periods of potentially extreme exposures. (See footnote 515.) In the Upper Midwest, Wisconsin residents living near silica sand mining operations that service the fracking industry reported dust exposure and respiratory problems. Silica dust is a known cause of silicosis and lung cancer.

In May 2015, the Medical Society of the State of New York passed a resolution recognizing the potential health impacts of natural gas infrastructure and pledging support for a governmental assessment of the health and environmental risks associated with natural gas pipelines. In June 2015, the American Medical Association (AMA) adopted a similar resolution that supports legislation requiring all levels of government to seek a comprehensive Health Impact Assessment regarding the health and environmental risks associated with natural gas pipelines. As part of a related resolution, the AMA also called for full disclosure of all chemicals used during fracking operations.

8) Drilling and fracking activities can bring naturally occurring radioactive materials to the surface. Exposure to increased radiation levels from these materials is a risk both for workers and for residents. In Pennsylvania, radon levels in homes have been rising since the advent of the fracking boom, and buildings in heavily drilled areas have significantly higher radon readings than areas without well pads—a difference that did not exist before 2004. University of Iowa researchers documented a variety of radioactive substances including radium, thorium, and uranium in fracking wastewater and determined that their radioactivity increased over time; they warned that radioactive decay products can potentially contaminate recreational, agricultural, and residential areas. The New York State DEC’s Findings Statement noted that naturally occurring radioactive materials (NORM) are brought to the surface “in the cuttings, flowback water and production brine….[T]he build-up of NORM in pipes and equipment has the potential to cause a significant adverse impact because it could expose workers handling pipes, for cleaning or maintenance, to increased radiation levels.” (See footnote 199.)

9) The risks posed by fracking in California are unique. One in every eight Americans lives in California, and hydraulic fracturing in California is practiced differently than in other states, making its risks different, as well. California is the only state that allows fracking waste to be held in unlined, open pits, which creates risks for both air and groundwater contamination. Wells are more likely to be vertical rather than horizontal, and the oil-containing shale is shallower. Hence, much less water is used per well for fracking as compared to other states. However, the fracking fluid used is much more chemically concentrated, the fracking zones are located closer to overlying aquifers, and the risk of a fracture reaching groundwater is higher. Most new fracking operations in California take place in areas with a long history of oil extraction, most notably San Joaquin Valley within Kern County. A high density of old and abandoned wells in that area provides potential leakage pathways, should fractures intersect with them. And although fracking requires considerably less water per well in California, it takes place disproportionately in areas of severe water shortages and can compete with municipal and agricultural needs for freshwater. (See footnote 74.)

Fracking in California is concentrated in two areas, both of which face unique potential risks to human health. One, Kern County, serves as a top producer of the nation’s food crops, yet it hosts the highest density of drilling and fracking operations in the state. These factors project fracking’s impacts onto geographically distant populations. The other area where fracking is concentrated, the Los Angeles oil basin, is located directly under one of the most populous cities in the world. About 1.7 million people in Los Angeles live or work within one mile of an active oil or gas well. California does not currently limit how close drilling and fracking operations can be from residences or schools.

The recent admission by state regulators that companies had been wrongly allowed to inject fracking waste directly into freshwater aquifers for years has led to the closing of many disposal wells. The combination of ongoing drought and lack of disposal options has resulted in the diversion of fracking wastewater to farmers for irrigation of crops, raising concerns about contaminated water potentially affecting food crops and draining into groundwater. Chevron Corporation piped eight million gallons of treated fracking waste to farmers for crop irrigation last year. Tests showed the presence of several volatile organic compounds, including acetone. (See footnote 426.) Food is a very troubling possible exposure route to fracking chemicals about which little is known. (See footnotes 425-427, 433, 436-438, 444-447.)

10) The economic instabilities of fracking further exacerbate public health risks. Real-life challenges to the industry’s arguments that fracking is good business are becoming more apparent. Independent economic analyses show that the promise of job creation has been greatly hyped, with many jobs going to out-of-area workers. With the arrival of drilling and fracking operations, communities have experienced steep increases in rates of crime, including sex trafficking, sexual assault, drunk driving, drug abuse, and violent victimization—all of which carry public health consequences, especially for women. Social costs include strain on law enforcement, municipal services, and road damage. Economic analyses have found that drilling and fracking threaten property values and can diminish tax revenues for local governments. Additionally, drilling and fracking pose an inherent conflict with mortgages and property insurance due to the hazardous materials used and the associated risks.

The shaky economic fundamentals of the industry as a whole also have consequences for public health and safety. The low price of oil and gas coupled with unexpectedly short-lived well production has led companies drilling shale to reduce the value of their assets by billions of dollars, creating shortfalls that are largely filled through asset sales and increasing debt load. Falling prices means that interest payments are consuming revenue of many smaller companies, raising questions about safety-cutting measures. Inflated and unreliable estimates of shale reserves and potential profitability continue to fuel the rush to drill new wells, cut regulatory corners, and press into densely populated communities. Thus, the fundamental economic uncertainties of shale gas and oil production further exacerbate the risks of fracking to public health and society.

About Physicians for Social Responsibility

Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) has been working for more than 50 years to create a healthy, just and peaceful world for both the present and future generations. PSR advocates on the issues people care about by addressing the dangers that threaten communities, using their medical and public health expertise to:

  • Prevent nuclear war and proliferation;
  • Reverse our trajectory towards climate change;
  • Protect the public and our environment from toxic chemicals;
  • Eliminate the use of nuclear power.

About Concerned Health Professionals of New York

Concerned Health Professionals of New York is initiative to amplify the voices of hundreds of health professionals in New York concerned about the health and public safety risks of fracking. Concerned Health Professionals of New York is also an online resource center for the public, press, elected officials and other health professionals to learn of our ongoing work and access the documentation of the serious health risks posed by hydraulic fracturing.

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* Casey, J. A., Savitz, D. A., Rasmussen, S. G., Ogburn, E. L., Pollak, J., Mercer, D. G., & Schwartz, B. S. (2015). Unconventional natural gas development and birth outcomes in Pennsylvania, USA. Epidemiology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1097/EDE.0000000000000387

** U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics (2015, September 17). National census of fatal occupational injuries in 2014 (preliminary results). USDL-15-1789. Retrieved from http://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/cfoi.pdf

*** IPCC. (2013). Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Stocker, T. F., D. Qin, G.-K. Plattner, M. Tignor, S. K. Allen, J. Boschung, A. Nauels, Y. Xia, V. Bex & P. M. Midgley (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA. Retrieved from http://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar5/wg1/

* Howard, T. (2015). University of Texas study underestimates national methane emissions at natural gas production sites due to instrument sensor failure. Energy Science & Engineering. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1002/ese3.81. This is the second of two recent studies that finds that the primary tool approved by the U.S. EPA for measuring and reporting emissions of methane fails to function properly when used as directed by the manufacturer. See also footnote 453.

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Physicians for Social Responsibility & Concerned Health Professionals of NY Call on Gov. Cuomo and Comm. Zucker to Put on Hold and Deny Gas Infrastructure, Citing Health Risks

Press Releases

Nobel Peace Prize-winning org release third edition of comprehensive fracking science report with first time analysis of risks of gas infrastructure expansion, including pipelines and compressor stations 

Orgs send letters to President Obama, PA, and MD governors about health impacts and calling for moratorium

ALBANY, NY (Wednesday, October 14, 2015)- A partnership encompassing nationwide medical and public health experts and scientists released the third edition of the Compendium of Scientific, Medical, and Media Findings Demonstrating Risks and Harms of Fracking. The Compendium, the first two editions of which were important in highlighting the science in New York before the ban was announced, compiles and summarizes hundreds of peer-reviewed studies and other important findings on fracking. The emerging science, including more than 100 studies after New York’s ban was announced, further shows that Gov. Cuomo and his Administration were right to ban high volume fracking.

For the first time, the Compendium includes a section on fracking infrastructure, examining the impact of pipelines and compressor stations on health and safety in New York. Physicians for Social Responsibility, a Nobel Peace Prize-winning organization of physicians, nurses, and other public health professionals, joined with Concerned Health Professionals of New York to release the report nationally and send the new report to Governor Cuomo and Health Commissioner Zucker, with a letter urging the state to put a hold on gas infrastructure expansion until and unless their safety can be demonstrated through comprehensive public health and environmental assessments.

Additionally, the organizations sent letters with the report to President Obama and the Surgeon General asking that they acknowledge the health risks and for a meeting. They also sent letters to the governors of Pennsylvania and Maryland, highlighting the significant health risks and calling for moratoria or bans along with an on fracking.

The health groups’ letter to Governor Cuomo and Commissioner Zucker likewise applauds them for their leadership in relying on solid scientific research and protecting the public health and safety of New Yorkers. In the face of numerous proposals to expand gas infrastructure in the state, and emerging scientific evidence of impacts and risks from infrastructure, the health groups are calling for New York to use its power in the permitting process to put on hold and deny permits to expand gas infrastructure, and for assessments of public health and environmental impacts to be undertaken. The letter notes that in many cases the federal government has approved permits without adequate consideration of critical issues and impacts.

The letter states, “We strongly urge New York State to put on hold and deny any expansion of natural gas transmission and storage projects, until and unless their safety can be demonstrated through comprehensive public health and environmental assessments.”

The letter notes the range of proposed projects and potential impacts, “What we already know about the public health and climate risks of fracking infrastructure is troubling. What we don’t know is all the more alarming. As New York is faced with numerous proposed new and additional gas pipelines, compressor stations, storage facilities, and a major liquefied natural gas terminal, we believe it is crucial to examine both the individual risks these projects pose and to consider their cumulative impacts, including to the state’s climate and energy goals.”

The section of the Compendium on drilling and fracking infrastructure compiles the science evidence available, which includes evidence of alarming risks. For example, compressor stations and pipelines are both major sources of air pollutants, including benzene and formaldehyde, which create serious health risks for those living nearby.

As the letter says, in their review of fracking, New York’s DOH and DEC rightly noted the potential for harmful air impacts, environmental impacts, and other risks from infrastructure. (DOH Health Review p. 5 and Findings Statement p. 27) Given the risks, this year the Medical Society of the State of New York and the American Medical Association each specifically called for comprehensive health impact assessments regarding the health risks associated with fracking infrastructure, including natural gas pipelines and compressor stations.

The letter also notes that infrastructure poses climate impacts, which are counterproductive to the state’s climate and greenhouse gas emissions goals. New York concluded (DEC Findings Statement, p. 18) that natural gas contributes to climate not only directly but also by furthering availability and consumption of fossil fuel, which “has the potential to undermine the deployment of various types of renewable energy and energy efficiencies, thereby suppressing investment in and use of these clean energy technologies.”

Kathy Nolan, MS, MSL, of Concerned Health Professionals of NY and Physicians for Social Responsibility – New York, said, “Governor Cuomo and his Administration showed great wisdom and courage in listening to the science and ultimately prohibiting high volume fracking in order to protect public health. Similar to fracking, numerous gas infrastructure proposals pose risks of harm to public health, air pollution, and exacerbating climate change. For the wellbeing of all New Yorkers, Governor Cuomo should put on hold and deny gas infrastructure expansion proposals until and unless their safety can be demonstrated through comprehensive public health and environmental assessments.”

Background:

The first edition of the Compendium was released in July 2014, and served a critical role in evaluating the science on drilling and fracking as a whole, beyond individual studies. The second edition was released in December, 2014, shortly before New York State released its own findings and announced the ban on fracking. Health professionals noted that New York State’s findings were in alignment with the Compendium. The Compendium has been widely used as a resource across the United States as well as in various European countries, Australia, parts of South America, Mexico, and Canada.

Major areas of risks and harms identified in the compilation of the science in the Compendium include: public health impacts, air pollution, water contamination, occupational health and safety hazards, radioactive releases, inherent engineering problems, impacts from associated infrastructure, and climate change impacts.

About Physicians for Social Responsibility

Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) has been working for more than 50 years to create a healthy, just and peaceful world for both the present and future generations. PSR advocates on the issues people care about by addressing the dangers that threaten communities, using their medical and public health expertise to:

  • Prevent nuclear war and proliferation;
  • Reverse our trajectory towards climate change;
  • Protect the public and our environment from toxic chemicals;
  • Eliminate the use of nuclear power.

 

About Concerned Health Professionals of New York

Concerned Health Professionals of New York is initiative to amplify the voices of hundreds of health professionals in New York concerned about the health and public safety risks of fracking. Concerned Health Professionals of New York is also an online resource center for the public, press, elected officials and other health professionals to learn of our ongoing work and access the documentation of the serious health risks posed by hydraulic fracturing.

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Physicians for Social Responsibility, Health and Science Experts Call on Obama, Surgeon General & Governors of Maryland, Pennsylvania to Stop Fracking, Citing National Health Impacts

Press Releases

 Nobel Peace Prize-Winning Org Partner with Concerned Health Professionals of New York to Release New Comprehensive Report and Analysis of Hundreds of Peer-Reviewed Studies Showing Fracking Cannot Be Done Safely

Groups send letters about health impacts and calling for moratorium

WASHINGTON, DC (Wednesday, October 14) – A partnership of prominent health organizations encompassing nationwide medical and public health experts and scientists released the third edition of their Compendium of Scientific, Medical, and Media Findings Demonstrating Risks and Harms of Fracking on Wednesday. The Compendium compiles and summarizes hundreds of peer-reviewed studies and other important findings on fracking, showing the significance and extent of the evidence demonstrating risks to public health, air and water quality, birth and infant health, the environment, and climate change.

Physicians for Social Responsibility, a Nobel Peace Prize-winning organization of physicians, nurses, and other public health professionals, joined with Concerned Health Professionals of New York to send letters with the report to President Obama and the Surgeon General, and the governors of Pennsylvania and Maryland, highlighting the significant health risks and calling for a moratorium on fracking.

Barbara Gottlieb, Director, Environment & Health, Physicians for Social Responsibility, said, “Our new report compiles and summarizes hundreds of peer-reviewed studies and other important findings on fracking, showing overwhelming evidence that drilling and fracking pose serious threats to public health, our environment, and the climate. Physicians for Social Responsibility is joining with our colleagues in sending the scientific evidence to President Obama and state leaders, calling for moratoria or bans on fracking to protect public health.”

In compiling the evidence pertaining to the impacts of drilling, fracking, and associated infrastructure, the Compendium offers a unique birds-eye view of the growing body of evidence, which includes more than 500 peer-reviewed scientific papers, as well as numerous government reports and findings from investigative journalism. This broader view of the science is crucial in understanding the scope of the risks and harms to public health and the environment. The Compendium is organized into 17 categories, and is designed to be accessible to policymakers, researchers, journalists, and the public.

Major areas of risks and harms identified in the compilation of the science include: public health impacts, air pollution, water contamination, occupational health and safety hazards, radioactive releases, inherent engineering problems, impacts from associated infrastructure, and climate change impacts.

The two organizations released letters to President Obama and the Surgeon General asking them to acknowledge the health risks of fracking and requesting a meeting to discuss the scientific evidence and how the groups can work together with them to protect the public health and safety of Americans. The groups also sent letters with the Compendium to the governors and state health and environment agency leaders in Pennsylvania and Maryland calling for moratoria or bans on fracking given the public health risks and other impacts.

Dr. Kathleen Nolan, MD, MLS, of Concerned Health Professionals of New York, said, “The scientific evidence is irrefutable – fracking is dangerous and cannot be conducted safely anywhere in the U.S. Based on the findings of hundreds of peer-reviewed studies, New York State’s ban not only makes sense: it is necessary to protect our residents’ health and safety. More states should follow New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s lead and keep fracking out of their communities.”

“Today we have more research than ever, showing the irreparable harm fracking can have on our air and water quality, the soil where we grow our food, and our overall wellbeing,” said Sandra Steingraber, PhD, distinguished scholar in residence at Ithaca College and member of Concerned Health Professionals of New York. “As healthcare workers and scientists, it is our responsibility to call for our elected officials to do what’s best for our communities and halt this dangerous process.”

In Pennsylvania, which has had hundreds of cases of water contamination from drilling and fracking and a range of health problems, Walter Tsou, MD, former president of Philadelphia Physicians for Social Responsibility, past president of the American Public Health Association and former health commissioner of Philadelphia, said, “Drilling and fracking in Pennsylvania have caused widespread water contamination, dangerous air pollution, and serious public health impacts. Given the considerable weight of the scientific evidence showing harm, Governor Wolf should enact a moratorium on fracking to protect public health.”

Notably, the Compendium corroborates and extends another, separate expert organization’s analysis of the peer-reviewed science, with similar findings. PSE Healthy Energy has established a database of all peer-reviewed studies, and has analyzed the growth in scientific research related to fracking, documenting the portion of studies showing risks and adverse impacts. They found that more than half of all available studies have been published since January, 2014, and the vast majority reveal serious risks. Among original research on human health risks, 84 percent of studies found signs of harm or potential harm, 88 percent of studies on air quality found elevated air pollutant emissions, and 69 percent of original research studies on water quality found evidence of or potential for water contamination.

Since the release of the first edition of the Compendium in July 2014, concerns about and opposition to fracking have grown. In December 2014, the New York State Department of Health released its own years-long review of the health impacts of fracking, which served as the foundation for a statewide ban, along with an environmental review finding significant impacts. Following New York’s ban, Maryland overwhelmingly passed a two-and-a-half year moratorium on fracking. Internationally, both Scotland and Wales imposed moratoria on fracking in January and February 2015, respectively, and in July 2015 the Dutch government banned all shale gas fracking, joining a range of countries and provinces in prohibiting the practice including Bulgaria, France, Germany, Ireland, Netherlands and parts of Canada, Spain and Switzerland.

In June 2015, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released a draft version of its study of the impacts of fracking on drinking water. The agency found that fracking had polluted drinking water in several communities nationwide and identified several “potential mechanisms by which hydraulic fracturing could affect drinking water resources.”

Given the continuous growth in research, the Compendium is designed as a living document that is publicly available on the websites for Physicians for Social Responsibility and Concerned Health Professionals of New York.

Based on a review of the evidence, the Compendium identifies 10 emerging trends:

1) Growing evidence shows that regulations are simply not capable of preventing harm. Studies reveal inherent problems in the natural gas extraction process, such as well integrity failures caused by aging or the pressures of fracking itself. These issues can lead to contamination, air pollution with carcinogens and other toxic chemicals, and a range of environmental and other stressors wrought on communities. Some of fracking’s many component parts—which include the subterranean geological landscape itself—are simply not controllable. Compounding the problem, the number of wells and their attendant infrastructure continue to proliferate, creating burgeoning cumulative impacts.

As reported in studies published last March, the injection of extreme volumes of fluids—now typically three to five million gallons or more per well—create significant deformations in the shale that are translated upwards, a mile or more, to the surface. Along the way, these “pressure bulbs” can impact in unpredictable ways faults and fissures in the overlying rock strata, including strata that intersect fresh water aquifers. Such pressure waves may mobilize contaminants left over from previous drilling and mining activities. (See footnotes 93 and 94.) No set of regulations can obviate these potential impacts to groundwater. Furthermore, in July, the state of California determined that fracking can have “significant and unavoidable” impacts on air quality, including by driving pollutants above levels that violate air quality standards. (See footnote 2.) According to the New York State Findings Statement, “Even with the implementation of an extensive suite of mitigation measures…the significant adverse public health and environmental impacts from allowing high-volume hydraulic fracturing to proceed under any scenario cannot be adequately avoided or minimized to the maximum extent practicable….” (See footnote 199.)

2) Fracking threatens drinking water. Cases of drinking water sources contaminated by drilling and fracking activities, as well as associated waste disposal, are now proven. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) assessment of fracking’s impacts on drinking water resources confirmed specific instances of water contamination caused by drilling and fracking-related activities and identified the various pathways by which this contamination has occurred. According to the EPA, documented cases of drinking water contamination have resulted from spills of fracking fluid and fracking wastewater; discharge of fracking waste into rivers and streams; and underground migration of fracking chemicals, including gas, into drinking water wells. Independently, researchers working in Texas found 19 different fracking-related contaminants—including cancer-causing benzene—in hundreds of drinking water samples collected from the aquifer above the heavily drilled Barnett Shale, thereby documenting widespread water contamination. In Pennsylvania, a solvent used in fracking fluid was found in drinking water wells near drilling and fracking operations known to have well casing problems. In California, state regulators admitted that they had mistakenly allowed oil companies to inject drilling wastewater into aquifers containing clean, potable water. (See footnotes 2, 79, 81, and 83.)

3) Drilling and fracking emissions contribute to toxic air pollution and smog (ground-level ozone) at levels known to have health impacts. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation determined that fracking could increase ozone levels in downwind areas of the state, potentially impacting the ability to maintain air quality that meets ozone standards. (See footnote 199.) Air near gas wells in rural Ohio had levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons that surpassed those in downtown Chicago. They were also ten times higher than the levels found in rural areas without fracking operations, raising the lifetime risk of cancer for residents living near the well pads by 45 percent. (See footnote 8.) Two independent reports from California determined that fracking occurs disproportionately in areas already suffering from serious air quality problems and can drive ozone and other federally regulated air pollutants to levels that violate air quality standards. (See footnotes 1 and 2.) This increased air pollution and smog formation poses a serious risk to all those already suffering from respiratory issues, such as children with asthma. With an average of 203 high-ozone days a year, intensely fracked Kern County, California, is the fifth-most ozone-polluted county in the nation, according to the American Lung Association.

4) Public health problems associated with drilling and fracking, including occupational health and safety problems, are increasingly well documented. Among residents living near drilling and fracking operations, documented indicators variously include increased rates of hospitalization, self-reported respiratory problems and rashes, motor vehicle fatalities, trauma, drug abuse, and low birth weight among infants. As we go to press, a new study from Johns Hopkins University finds a 40 percent increase in the risk of preterm birth among infants born to mothers who live nearby active drilling and fracking sites in Pennsylvania.* Among workers, risks include both toxic exposures and accidents. Benzene has been detected in the urine of wellpad workers in Colorado and Wyoming. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health named oil and gas extraction industry workers among those at risk for silicosis, an incurable lung disease caused by exposure to silica dust, from the silica sand that is used extensively in fracking operations. Fatality rates among workers in the oil and gas extraction sector in North Dakota were seven times the national fatality rates in this industry, which itself has more deaths from fires and explosions than any other private industry. An increase in workplace deaths has accompanied the fracking boom in West Virginia. As we go to press, a new census from the Bureau of Labor Statistics finds that the number of fatal work injuries in oil and gas extraction industries rose 27 percent between 2013 and 2014.**

5) Natural gas is a bigger threat to the climate than previously believed. Methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas than formerly appreciated. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change now estimates that, over a 20-year time frame, methane can, pound for pound, trap 86 times more heat than carbon dioxide.*** Further, real-world leakage rates greatly exceed earlier estimates. In the heavily drilled Barnett Shale of northeastern Texas, methane emissions were shown to be 50 percent higher than the EPA had estimated. Fracking operations and associated infrastructure contribute 71 to 85 percent of the methane emissions in the region. Researchers discovered that much of these emissions originated not from accidental leaks but from losses that are inherent to the design of the machinery or to normal operating use and are therefore not possible to mitigate. Methane leakage at the levels now being documented (by multiple approaches in measurement and modeling) negates and outweighs previously hypothesized benefits from burning methane instead of coal in most existing power plants. As we go to press, a new study confirms that a commonly used instrument to quantify methane leakage has unreliable sensors and malfunctions in ways that vastly underreport emissions by factors of three to five. More than 40 percent of the compiled national methane inventory may be affected by this measurement failure, according to the author of this study.*At this writing, the implications of this discovery for our understanding of system-wide methane leakage rates from drilling and fracking operations are not known, but they do call into question the results of at least one major study of methane emissions that relied on this device for collecting data.

6) Earthquakes are a consequence of drilling and fracking-related activities in many locations. In the past few months, several major studies have confirmed a causal link between the injection of fracking wastewater in disposal wells and earthquake swarms. The evidence is strong enough that the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled unanimously in June that homeowners can sue the oil and gas industry for injuries or property damage resulting from earthquakes. The number of earthquakes of magnitude 3.0 or higher has skyrocketed in Oklahoma since the advent of the fracking boom, with fewer than two per year before 2009 and more than 1,100 predicted to occur in 2015. (See footnote 321.) Evidence now also shows that the process of fracking itself can trigger small earthquakes, as several confirmed cases in Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas, the United Kingdom, and Canada demonstrate. (See footnote 199.)

 

7) Fracking infrastructure poses serious potential exposure risks to those living near it. Drilling and fracking activities are temporary operations, but compressor stations are semi-permanent facilities that pollute the air 24 hours a day as long as gas is flowing through the pipeline. As documented by a Pennsylvania study published in February 2015, day-to-day emissions from compressor stations are highly episodic and can create periods of potentially extreme exposures. (See footnote 515.) In the Upper Midwest, Wisconsin residents living near silica sand mining operations that service the fracking industry reported dust exposure and respiratory problems. Silica dust is a known cause of silicosis and lung cancer.

In May 2015, the Medical Society of the State of New York passed a resolution recognizing the potential health impacts of natural gas infrastructure and pledging support for a governmental assessment of the health and environmental risks associated with natural gas pipelines. In June 2015, the American Medical Association (AMA) adopted a similar resolution that supports legislation requiring all levels of government to seek a comprehensive Health Impact Assessment regarding the health and environmental risks associated with natural gas pipelines. As part of a related resolution, the AMA also called for full disclosure of all chemicals used during fracking operations.

8) Drilling and fracking activities can bring naturally occurring radioactive materials to the surface. Exposure to increased radiation levels from these materials is a risk both for workers and for residents. In Pennsylvania, radon levels in homes have been rising since the advent of the fracking boom, and buildings in heavily drilled areas have significantly higher radon readings than areas without well pads—a difference that did not exist before 2004. University of Iowa researchers documented a variety of radioactive substances including radium, thorium, and uranium in fracking wastewater and determined that their radioactivity increased over time; they warned that radioactive decay products can potentially contaminate recreational, agricultural, and residential areas. The New York State DEC’s Findings Statement noted that naturally occurring radioactive materials (NORM) are brought to the surface “in the cuttings, flowback water and production brine….[T]he build-up of NORM in pipes and equipment has the potential to cause a significant adverse impact because it could expose workers handling pipes, for cleaning or maintenance, to increased radiation levels.” (See footnote 199.)

9) The risks posed by fracking in California are unique. One in every eight Americans lives in California, and hydraulic fracturing in California is practiced differently than in other states, making its risks different, as well. California is the only state that allows fracking waste to be held in unlined, open pits, which creates risks for both air and groundwater contamination. Wells are more likely to be vertical rather than horizontal, and the oil-containing shale is shallower. Hence, much less water is used per well for fracking as compared to other states. However, the fracking fluid used is much more chemically concentrated, the fracking zones are located closer to overlying aquifers, and the risk of a fracture reaching groundwater is higher. Most new fracking operations in California take place in areas with a long history of oil extraction, most notably San Joaquin Valley within Kern County. A high density of old and abandoned wells in that area provides potential leakage pathways, should fractures intersect with them. And although fracking requires considerably less water per well in California, it takes place disproportionately in areas of severe water shortages and can compete with municipal and agricultural needs for freshwater. (See footnote 74.)

 

Fracking in California is concentrated in two areas, both of which face unique potential risks to human health. One, Kern County, serves as a top producer of the nation’s food crops, yet it hosts the highest density of drilling and fracking operations in the state. These factors project fracking’s impacts onto geographically distant populations. The other area where fracking is concentrated, the Los Angeles oil basin, is located directly under one of the most populous cities in the world. About 1.7 million people in Los Angeles live or work within one mile of an active oil or gas well. California does not currently limit how close drilling and fracking operations can be from residences or schools.

The recent admission by state regulators that companies had been wrongly allowed to inject fracking waste directly into freshwater aquifers for years has led to the closing of many disposal wells. The combination of ongoing drought and lack of disposal options has resulted in the diversion of fracking wastewater to farmers for irrigation of crops, raising concerns about contaminated water potentially affecting food crops and draining into groundwater. Chevron Corporation piped eight million gallons of treated fracking waste to farmers for crop irrigation last year. Tests showed the presence of several volatile organic compounds, including acetone. (See footnote 426.) Food is a very troubling possible exposure route to fracking chemicals about which little is known. (See footnotes 425-427, 433, 436-438, 444-447.)

10) The economic instabilities of fracking further exacerbate public health risks. Real-life challenges to the industry’s arguments that fracking is good business are becoming more apparent. Independent economic analyses show that the promise of job creation has been greatly hyped, with many jobs going to out-of-area workers. With the arrival of drilling and fracking operations, communities have experienced steep increases in rates of crime, including sex trafficking, sexual assault, drunk driving, drug abuse, and violent victimization—all of which carry public health consequences, especially for women. Social costs include strain on law enforcement, municipal services, and road damage. Economic analyses have found that drilling and fracking threaten property values and can diminish tax revenues for local governments. Additionally, drilling and fracking pose an inherent conflict with mortgages and property insurance due to the hazardous materials used and the associated risks.

The shaky economic fundamentals of the industry as a whole also have consequences for public health and safety. The low price of oil and gas coupled with unexpectedly short-lived well production has led companies drilling shale to reduce the value of their assets by billions of dollars, creating shortfalls that are largely filled through asset sales and increasing debt load. Falling prices means that interest payments are consuming revenue of many smaller companies, raising questions about safety-cutting measures. Inflated and unreliable estimates of shale reserves and potential profitability continue to fuel the rush to drill new wells, cut regulatory corners, and press into densely populated communities. Thus, the fundamental economic uncertainties of shale gas and oil production further exacerbate the risks of fracking to public health and society.

About Physicians for Social Responsibility

Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) has been working for more than 50 years to create a healthy, just and peaceful world for both the present and future generations. PSR advocates on the issues people care about by addressing the dangers that threaten communities, using their medical and public health expertise to:

  • Prevent nuclear war and proliferation;
  • Reverse our trajectory towards climate change;
  • Protect the public and our environment from toxic chemicals;
  • Eliminate the use of nuclear power.

About Concerned Health Professionals of New York

Concerned Health Professionals of New York is initiative to amplify the voices of hundreds of health professionals in New York concerned about the health and public safety risks of fracking. Concerned Health Professionals of New York is also an online resource center for the public, press, elected officials and other health professionals to learn of our ongoing work and access the documentation of the serious health risks posed by hydraulic fracturing.

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* Casey, J. A., Savitz, D. A., Rasmussen, S. G., Ogburn, E. L., Pollak, J., Mercer, D. G., & Schwartz, B. S. (2015). Unconventional natural gas development and birth outcomes in Pennsylvania, USA. Epidemiology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1097/EDE.0000000000000387

** U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics (2015, September 17). National census of fatal occupational injuries in 2014 (preliminary results). USDL-15-1789. Retrieved from http://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/cfoi.pdf

*** IPCC. (2013). Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Stocker, T. F., D. Qin, G.-K. Plattner, M. Tignor, S. K. Allen, J. Boschung, A. Nauels, Y. Xia, V. Bex & P. M. Midgley (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA. Retrieved from http://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar5/wg1/

* Howard, T. (2015). University of Texas study underestimates national methane emissions at natural gas production sites due to instrument sensor failure. Energy Science & Engineering. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1002/ese3.81. This is the second of two recent studies that finds that the primary tool approved by the U.S. EPA for measuring and reporting emissions of methane fails to function properly when used as directed by the manufacturer. See also footnote 453.

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Health Professionals, Scientists Release Analysis of 400 Peer-Reviewed Studies on Fracking along with Major Scientific Compendium Update

Press Releases

New Analysis and Science Answer Governor Cuomo’s Concerns about Science: Studies Overwhelmingly Show Public Health Hazards and Risks

Health Professionals Urge Governor Cuomo to Enact 3-5 Year Moratorium on Fracking given Scientific Studies and Trends

Albany – Health professionals and scientists released two new, independent summations of the state of the science on the risks and harms of shale gas development and fracking. The two documents – which have both been sent to Governor Cuomo and Acting Health Commissioner Dr. Zucker – address speculation and concerns raised by Governor Cuomo this fall about the status of scientific inquiry into the impacts of shale gas development, decisively showing that independent, peer-reviewed studies overwhelmingly identify environmental and public health hazards and risks of shale gas development.

The first is a new working paper analysis from the energy science organization, PSE Healthy Energy. Covering a wide range of outcomes—air pollution, water contamination, and public health—the PSE Healthy Energy analysis is a statistical evaluation of the approximately 400 peer-reviewed studies to date on the impacts of shale gas development. Among the key findings:

  • 96% of all papers published on health impacts indicate potential risks or adverse health outcomes.
  • 87% of original research studies published on health outcomes indicate potential risks or adverse health outcomes.
  • 95% of all original research studies on air quality indicate elevated concentrations of air pollutants.
  • 72% of original research studies on water quality indicate potential, positive association, or actual incidence of water contamination.
  • There is an ongoing expansion in the number of peer-reviewed publications on the impacts of shale and tight gas development: approximately 73% of all available scientific peer-reviewed papers have been published in the past 24 months, with a current average of one paper published each day.


Seth B.C. Shonkoff, PhD, MPH executive director of PSE Healthy Energy and visiting scholar at UC Berkeley said, “Scientists are just now beginning to understand the health and environmental dimensions of shale gas development. While the majority of studies published indicate that there are risks to human health, there are still very few epidemiological studies that evaluate or model actual health impacts. You don’t get what you expect, you get what you inspect and it is wise for New York to continue to look before it leaps and wait for the information it needs to make an educated decision.”

Anthony Ingraffea, PhD, Dwight C. Baum Professor of Engineering, Cornell University, said, “In 2009, when New York State first declared a moratorium on fracking, only six peer-reviewed papers on the health and environmental impacts had been published. Now there are more than 400, and the vast majority shows a clear and present danger. What’s more, many problems are unfixable by regulations of any kind. It was a wise governor who said ‘wait’ in 2009. And it is wise to continue to wait.”

The second new document is the release of a major update to the Compendium of scientific, medical and media findings from Concerned Health Professionals of New York. This qualitative compilation, assembled by a team of scientists and health professionals working independently from PSE Healthy Energy, presents concise summations of key information in a manner accessible and useful to policymakers, journalists, researchers, and the general public. The original Compendium, first released on July 10, 2014, has served a critical role in the debate in New York and has been influential across the United States and overseas. This second edition, coming only five months after the first, includes descriptions of more than 80 new findings. Like the PSE statistical analysis, the CHPNY compendium is top-heavy with new studies and finds overwhelming evidence for risks and harms.

Concerned Health Professionals of New York asserted that the state’s health review must likewise consider the weight of the evidence across many fields of study and the emerging trends in the data, and urged Governor Cuomo to protect the water and health of all New Yorkers by enacting a minimum three to five year moratorium on fracking.

Sheila Bushkin-Bedient, MD, MPH, of the Institute for Health and Environment at the State University of New York, and Concerned Health Professionals of New York, said, “In compiling hundreds of important scientific, medical, and media findings about drilling and fracking, we found many areas of serious concern to public health, water, the environment, and economic vitality. Science is still catching up to the rapid expansion of fracking, but what we know already is deeply disconcerting. The vast majority of studies show that fracking cannot be done safely, without harm to people and the environment.”

Larysa Dyrszka, MD, a pediatrician and a co-founder of Concerned Health Professionals of New York, said, “The longer we look at fracking, the more trouble we find. There is no split debate within the scientific literature. Given the avalanche of recent studies showing inherent problems and harms of fracking, Governor Cuomo must enact a minimum three to five year moratorium in order to protect the water and health of all New Yorkers.”

Fully referenced with well over four hundred citations, the Compendium covers sixteen compelling topics that emerge in reviewing the data, opening with sections on two of the most acute threats—air pollution and water contamination—and ending with medical and scientific calls for more study and transparency.

The introduction to the Compendium notes that research on complex, large-scale industrialized activities and the ancillary infrastructure takes time but that science is now catching up to the last decade’s surge in unconventional oil and gas extraction. In summary, “A growing body of peer-reviewed studies, accident reports, and investigative articles is now detailing specific, quantifiable evidence of harm and has revealed fundamental problems with the entire life cycle of operations associated with unconventional drilling and fracking. Industry studies as well as independent analyses indicate inherent engineering problems including uncontrolled and unpredictable fracturing, induced seismicity, and well casing and cement impairments that cannot be prevented.”

Commenting on the recent upsurge in important studies and data, the Compendium notes, “Earlier scientific predictions and anecdotal evidence are now bolstered by empirical data, confirming that the public health risks from unconventional gas and oil extraction are real, the range of adverse impacts significant, and the negative economic consequences considerable. Our examination of the peer-reviewed medical and public health literature uncovered no evidence that fracking can be practiced in a manner that does not threaten human health.”

Yuri Gorby, PhD, the Blitman Chair in Environmental Engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, who has investigated the impacts of drilling and fracking in Pennsylvania and West Virginia, said, “The rapidly emerging science on drilling and fracking increasingly confirms many earlier anecdotal reports of harm, including serious health ailments and water contamination. The science on fracking is still young. We are confident that another three to five years will seal the deal: fracking is an intrinsic danger to air, water, climate and health and cannot be regulated into safety.”

The Compendium includes a foreword that summarizes the most recent trends in the data, and an executive summary that offers an overview of each of the sixteen categories of risks and harms identified.

Background:

Earlier this fall, Governor Cuomo speculated and raised concerns about the academic and scientific evidence, which the new scientific documents should allay.

On November 6, 2014, Cuomo said, “You can have credentialed academics on both sides—one side says they have more credentialed experts than the other side.”

On October 22, 2014, Governor Cuomo said, “I’m not a scientist. Let the scientists decide. It’s very complicated, very controversial, academic studies come out all different ways. Let the experts decide.”

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Health Professionals Response to Governor Cuomo’s Characterization of the Science on Fracking

Press Releases

On behalf of Concerned Health Professionals of New York, Larysa Dyrszka, MD and Sandra Steingraber, PhD released the following statement in response to Governor Cuomo’s comments on Thursday about arguments on both sides of the fracking debate.

“As scientists and health professionals who have closely followed the science on drilling and fracking for many years, we respectfully take issue with Governor Cuomo’s assertion about arguments by many “credentialed academics on both sides” of the fracking debate. When the topic is impacts on public health, there are no recent, peer-reviewed reports by credentialed, independent, academic researchers that conclude that fracking is safe.  Indeed, nearly every week, new academic publications reveal that the risks created by drilling and fracking are complex, serious, and widespread and include both acute and chronic health problems.”

“Claims by the oil and gas industry to the contrary are not science, and they, along with a handful of reports funded by industry, do not belong on equal footing with rigorous, academic, independent studies. The disingenuous effort on the part of the gas industry to create a false debate and so distract attention from the evidence for harm is part of a sophisticated, coordinated propaganda strategy. In this, the gas industry has taken a page out of the playbook of the lead paint and tobacco industries of years ago when they cast aspersions on public health research findings even as Americans suffered rising rates of lead poisoning and lung cancer. Governor Cuomo should not fall for cigarette science.”

“Overwhelmingly, emerging scientific data show harms and inherent problems with drilling and fracking. We strongly urge Governor Cuomo to re-evaluate his position on the state of the science. The science is not split; research overwhelmingly shows that drilling and fracking are inherently dangerous.”

“We call again on Governor Cuomo to heed the mounting evidence of harm and enact a concrete, minimum three-five year moratorium on fracking as critically important science continues to develop.”

Background

Many medical and health organizations have raised concerns about fracking, including the New York State Medical Society, the American Lung Association in New York, the American Academy of Pediatrics in New York, Physicians for Social Responsibility, among others.

Many countries have also looked at the science and have put bans and moratoria in place, including Australia, Bulgaria, Canadian provinces of Newfoundland, Labrador and Nova Scotia, France, Germany, Ireland, Netherlands and parts of Spain and Switzerland.


Health Professionals Release Major Scientific Document on Fracking and Request Meeting with Acting Health Commissioner Zucker After Court of Appeals Decision, New Scientific Compendium Demonstrates Imperative of Statewide Moratorium

Press Releases

Albany – Health experts and scientific researchers with Concerned Health Professionals of New York held a press conference in Albany today to release a major new compilation – a Compendium – of the scientific, medical and media findings demonstrating risks and harms of fracking. The document is systematically organized in a manner accessible to public officials, researchers, journalists and the public at large and should serve an important role in the ongoing public and policy dialogue.

Fully referenced with well over three hundred citations, it covers fifteen compelling topics that emerge in reviewing the data, opening with sections on two of the most acute threats—air pollution and water contamination—and ending with medical and scientific calls for more study and transparency.

The experts sent the Compendium to Governor Cuomo, Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Martens and Acting Department of Health Commissioner Zucker. Additionally, they sent a letter (http://bit.ly/1jtrqeV)to Acting Commissioner Zucker requesting a meeting.

The Compendium is publicly available on the Concerned Health Professionals of New York website: http://concernedhealthny.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/CHPNY-Fracking-Compendium.pdf.

The introduction to the Compendium notes that research on complex, large-scale industrialized activities and the ancillary infrastructure takes time but that science is now catching up to the last decade’s surge in unconventional oil and gas extraction. In summary, “A growing body of peer-reviewed studies, accident reports, and investigative articles is now confirming specific, quantifiable evidence of harm and has revealed fundamental problems with the drilling and fracking. Industry studies as well as independent analyses indicate inherent engineering problems including well casing and cement impairments that cannot be prevented.”

Commenting on the recent upsurge in important studies and data, the Compendium notes, “Earlier scientific predictions and anecdotal evidence are now bolstered by empirical data, confirming that the public health risks from unconventional gas and oil extraction are real, the range of adverse impacts significant, and the negative economic consequences considerable. Our examination of the peer-reviewed medical and public health literature uncovered no evidence that fracking can be practiced in a manner that does not threaten human health.”

At the press conference releasing the Compendium, Sandra Steingraber, PhD, Distinguished Scholar in Residence at Ithaca College, said, “This compilation of findings brings together data from many fields of study and reveals the diversity of the problems with fracking—from increased flood risks to increased crime risks, from earthquakes to methane leaks. What this multitude of threats all has in common is the ability to harm public health. That’s our message to Governor Cuomo and Acting Health Commissioner Zucker.”

Also at the press conference, Sheila Bushkin-Bedient, MD, MPH, said, “What we already know from hundreds of studies about the risks and harms of fracking to water, air, agriculture, workers and public health is significant. What we still don’t know, such as the extent of long-term, cumulative health impacts and potentially harmful levels of radon, is also significant. It’s imperative that Governor Cuomo institutes at least a three to five year statewide moratorium to protect public health.”

Given the quickly expanding body of evidence, the Compendium is designed to be a living document housed on the Concerned Health Professionals of New York website and will be updated approximately every six months. The studies cited in this first edition are current through June 30, 2014.

The executive summary of the fifteen areas of risk and harms covered is included below.

In their letter to Acting Health Commissioner Zucker requesting a meeting, the experts noted they are pleased that the New York State Assembly overwhelmingly passed a three-year moratorium on fracking given concerns in the scientific literature and the need for more study, but they urged that it is the Department of Health’s responsibility and Zucker must recommend the same to Governor Cuomo.

They wrote to Zucker, “Ultimately it is your Department that carries the responsibility for making a scientifically informed recommendation that ensures protection of public health and safety. Based on the knowledge available to us now, we believe that fracking would pose significant threats to the air, water, health and safety of New Yorkers and that your recommendation must also be for a statewide moratorium of at least three to five years.”

Executive Summary from the Compendium:

Evidence of risks, harms, and associated trends demonstrated by this Compendium:

  • Air pollution – Studies increasingly show that air pollution associated with drilling and fracking operations is a grave concern with a range of impacts. Researchers have documented dozens of air pollutants from drilling and fracking operations that pose serious health hazards. Areas with substantial drilling and fracking build-out show high levels of ozone, striking declines in air quality, and, in several cases, increased rates of health problems with known links to air pollution.
     
  • Water contamination – The emerging science has significantly strengthened the case that drilling and fracking inherently threaten groundwater. A range of studies from across the United States present strong evidence that groundwater contamination occurs and is more likely to occur close to drilling sites. Likewise, the number of well blowouts, spills and cases of surface water contamination has steadily grown. Meanwhile, the gas industry’s use of “gag orders,” non-disclosure agreements and settlements impede scientific study and stifle public awareness of the extent of these problems.
     
  • Inherent engineering problems that worsen with time – Studies and emerging data consistently show that oil and gas wells routinely leak, allowing for the migration of natural gas and potentially other substances into groundwater and the atmosphere. Leakage from faulty wells is an issue that the industry has identified and for which it has no solution. For instance, Schlumberger, one of the world’s largest companies specializing in fracking, published an article in its magazine in 2003 showing that about five percent of wells leak immediately, 50 percent leak after 15 years and 60 percent leak after 30 years. Data from Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) also confirm these initial leakage rates, with a six percent structural integrity failure rate observed for shale gas wells drilled in 2010, 7.1 percent observed for wells drilled in 2011, and 8.9 percent observed for wells drilled in 2012. Leaks pose serious risks including potential loss of life or property from explosions and the migration of gas or other chemicals into drinking water supplies. Leaks also allow methane to escape into the atmosphere, where it acts as a powerful greenhouse gas. There is no evidence to suggest that the problem of cement and well casing impairment is abating. Indeed, a 2014 analysis of more than 75,000 compliance reports for more than 41,000 wells in Pennsylvania found that newer wells have higher leakage rates and that unconventional shale gas wells leak more than conventional wells drilled within the same time period. Industry has no solution for rectifying the chronic problem of well casing leakage.
     
  • Radioactive releases – High levels of radiation documented in fracking wastewater raise special concerns in terms of impacts to groundwater and surface water. Studies have indicated that the Marcellus Shale is more radioactive than other shale formations. Measurements of radium in fracking wastewater in New York and Pennsylvania have been as high as 3,600 times the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) limit for drinking water. One recent study found toxic levels of radiation in a Pennsylvania waterway even after fracking wastewater was disposed of through an industrial wastewater treatment plant. In addition, the disposal of radioactive drill cuttings is a concern. Unsafe levels of radon and its decay products in natural gas produced from the Marcellus Shale, known to have particularly high radon content, may also contaminate pipelines and compressor stations, as well as pose risks to end-users when allowed to travel into homes.
     
  • Occupational health and safety hazards – Fracking jobs are dangerous jobs. Occupational hazards include head injuries, traffic accidents, blunt trauma, burns, toxic chemical exposures, heat exhaustion, dehydration, and sleep deprivation. As a group, oil and gas industry workers have an on-the-job fatality rate seven times that of other industries. Exposure to silica dust, which is definitively linked to silicosis and lung cancer, was singled out by National Institutes for Occupational Safety and Health as a particular threat to workers in fracking operations where silica sand is used. At the same time, research shows that many gas field workers, despite these serious occupational hazards, are uninsured or underinsured and lack access to basic medical care.
     
  • Noise pollution, light pollution and stress – Drilling and fracking operations and ancillary infrastructure expose workers and nearby residents tocontinuous noise and light pollution that is sustained for periods lasting many months. Chronic exposure to light at night is linked to adverse health effects, including breast cancer. Sources of fracking-related noise pollution include blasting, drilling, flaring, generators, compressor stations and truck traffic. Exposure to environmental noise pollution is linked to cardiovascular disease, cognitive impairment, and sleep disturbance. Workers and residents whose homes, schools and workplaces are in close proximity to well sites are at risk from these exposures as well as from related stressors.
     
  • Earthquake and seismic activity – A growing body of evidence links fracking wastewater injection (disposal) wells to earthquakes of magnitudes as high as 5.7, in addition to “swarms” of minor earthquakes and fault slipping. In some cases, the fracking process itself has been linked to earthquakes and seismic activity, including instances in which gas corporations have acknowledged the connection. In New York, this issue is of particular concern to New York City’s aqueduct-dependent drinking water supply and watershed infrastructure, as the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (NYC DEP) has warned repeatedly, but similar concerns apply to all drinking water resources. The question of what to do with wastewater remains a problem with no viable, safe solution.
     
  • Abandoned and active oil and natural gas wells (as pathways for gas and fluid migration) – Millions of abandoned and undocumented oil and gas wells exist across the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. All serve as potential pathways for pollution, heightening the risks of groundwater contamination and other problems when horizontal drilling and fracking operations intersect with pre-existing vertical channels leading through drinking water aquifers and to the atmosphere. Industry experts, consultants and government agencies including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. General Accounting Office (now the Government Accountability Office), Texas Department of Agriculture, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and the British Columbia Oil and Gas Commission have all warned about problems with abandoned wells due to the potential for pressurized fluids and gases to migrate through inactive and in some cases, active wells.
     
  • Flood risks – Massive land clearing and forest fragmentation that necessarily accompany well site preparation increase erosion and risks for catastrophic flooding, as do access roads, pipeline easements and other related infrastructure. In addition, in some cases, operators choose to site well pads on flood-prone areas in order to have easy access to water for fracking, to abide by setback requirements intended to keep well pads away from inhabited buildings, or to avoid productive agricultural areas. In turn,flooding increases the dangers of unconventional gas extraction, resulting in the contamination of soils and water supplies, the overflow or breaching of containment ponds, and the escape of chemicals and hazardous materials. In at least six of the past ten years, New York State has experienced serious flooding in parts of the state targeted for drilling and fracking. Some of these areas have been hit with “100-year floods” in five or more of the past ten years. Gas companies acknowledge threats posed by flooding, and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has recommended drilling be prohibited from 100-year flood areas; however, accelerating rates of extreme weather events make existing flood maps obsolete, making this approach insufficiently protective.
     
  • Threats to agriculture and soil quality – Drilling and fracking pose risks to the agricultural industry. Studies and case reports from across the country have highlighted instances of deaths, neurological disorders, aborted pregnancies, and stillbirths in cattle and goats associated with livestock coming into contact with wastewater. Potential water and air contamination puts soil quality as well as livestock health at risk. Additionally, farmers have expressed concern that nearby fracking operations can hurt the perception of agricultural quality and nullify value-added organic certification.
     
  • Threats to the climate system – A range of studies have shown high levels of methane leaks from gas drilling and fracking operations, undermining the notion that natural gas is a climate solution or a transition fuel. Major studies have concluded that early work by the EPA greatly underestimated the impacts of methane and natural gas drilling on the climate. Drilling, fracking and expanded use of natural gas threaten not only to exacerbate climate change but also to stifle investments in, and expansion of, renewable energy.
     
  • Inaccurate jobs claims, increased crime rates, and threats to property value and mortgages – Experiences in various states and accompanying studies have shown that the oil and gas industry’s promises for job creation from drilling for natural gas have been greatly exaggerated and that many of the jobs are short-lived and/or have gone to out-of-area workers. With the arrival of drilling and fracking operations, communities have experienced steep increases in rates of crime – including sexual assault, drunk driving, drug abuse, and violent victimization, all of which carry public health consequences. Social costs include strain on municipal services and road damage. Economic analyses have found that drilling and fracking operations threaten property values. Additionally, gas drilling and fracking pose an inherent conflict with mortgages and property insurance due to the hazardous materials used and the associated risks.
     
  • Inflated estimates of oil and gas reserves and profitability – Industry estimates of oil and gas reserves and profitability of drilling have proven unreliable, casting serious doubts on the bright economic prospects the industry has painted for the public, media and investors. Increasingly, well production has been short-lived, which has led companies to reduce the value of their assets by billions of dollars.
     
  • Disclosure of serious risks to investors – Oil and gas companies are required to disclose risks to their investors in an annual Form 10-K. Those disclosures acknowledge the inherent dangers posed by gas drilling and fracking operations, including leaks, spills, explosions, blowouts, environmental damage, property damage, injury and death. Adequate protections have not kept pace with these documented dangers and inherent risks.
     
  • Medical and scientific calls for more study and more transparency – With increasing urgency, groups of medical professionals and scientists are issuing calls for comprehensive, long-term study of the full range of the potential health and ecosystem effects of drilling and fracking. These appeals underscore the accumulating evidence of harm, point to the major knowledge gaps that remain, and denounce the atmosphere of secrecy and intimidation that continues to impede the progress of scientific inquiry. Health professionals and scientists in the United States and around the world have urged tighter regulation of and in some cases, suspension of unconventional gas and oil extraction activities in order to limit, mitigate or eliminate its serious, adverse public health hazards.

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Statement on Preliminary Findings from the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project Study

Press Releases

by Larysa Dyrszka, MD; Kathleen Nolan, MD, MSL; and Sandra Steingraber, PhD

Early results from an on-the-ground, public health assesment in Washington County, Pennsylvania, indicate that environmental contamination is occurring near natural gas drilling sites and is the likely cause of associated illnesses. We are alarmed by these preliminary findings. They show that—after only six years of drilling—human exposure is occurring and people are getting sick. The presence of any sick people gives lie to industry claims that high volume hydraulic fracturing (fracking) is “safe.”

Focusing on the early low numbers from this ongoing study, however—as does a recent Associated Press story—is misleading. The 27 cases documented by the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project team are not a surveyed sample of the region’s population, nor were they recruited to be part of a study. They are patients from a single rural clinic who came in seeking help. As such, these early figures could easily be the leading edge of a rising wave of human injury.

Furthermore, these 27 people represent only those suffering acute problems. Chronic illnesses can take years to manifest. Mesothelioma from asbestos, thyroid cancer from radiation, mental retardation from lead poisoning; birth defects from the rubella virus: all these now-proven connections began with a handful of case studies that, looking back, were just the tip of an iceberg. We know that many of the chemicals released during drilling and fracking operations—including benzene—are likewise slow to exert their toxic effects. Detection of illness can lag by years or decades, as did the appearance of illnesses in construction workers and first responders from exposure to pollution in the 9/11 World Trade Center response and clean-up.

The early results from the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project study implicate air contamination as the likely cause of three-quarters of the associated illnesses so documented. In some cases, starkly elevated levels of fracking-related air pollutants were found in the air inside of people’s homes. This is an unacceptable problem:  breathing is mandatory and, while a drinking water source might be replaced, air cannot.

A minority of cases suffered from likely exposures to tainted water, but these low numbers are not reassuring. Many exposures related to natural gas extraction increase over time. First come airborne exposures, as seen in Washington County and around the country where drilling and fracking is taking place. In a small percentage of communities near drilling operations, water contamination also takes place immediately due to failure of the well casings. But, more often, water contamination is a delayed response. Well casings continue to fail as they age—up to 60 percent over 30 years—and, as they do, we expect health effects from waterborne contaminants to rise and spread to more communities.

Thus, each well is potentially the center of an expanding circle of illness. At first there are only a few cases, but the ultimate result may be widespread contamination.

In the AP story, the gas industry argues that lives are saved by cleaner burning natural gas. Even if there is any truth in that claim, saving U.S. lives from emissions from shamefully antiquated coal plants should not require sacrificing unconsenting children and families to contaminated air and water from fracked wells and the transportation of gas. Creating new health hazards to replace the old is unethical when clean, safe, renewable forms of energy exist.

Given that exposures and illness increase over time and given that many instances of contamination and illness related to fracking never come to light due to non-disclosure agreements with the industry, we cannot accurately quantify the extent of our problems with gas drilling. We do know they are here, and we have every reason to expect that they are not yet fully visible and they are growing.


Health Professionals, National and Statewide Leaders Applaud Gov. Cuomo’s Fracking Time Out, Urge Gov. to Await Fracking Public Health Studies’ Conclusions before Making Decision

Press Releases

Letter’s Signatories Call for NY State-Specific Health Impact Assessment and Public Participation in Health Review Process

Albany, NY – Hundreds of medical professionals, health organizations, environmental, national and statewide leaders, and a hundred and fifty elected officials released a letter today calling on Governor Cuomo to let three public health studies cited by New York State Department of Health (DOH) Commissioner Nirav Shah conclude, open the state’s health review to public participation, and to conduct a New York-specific Health Impact Assessment before making a decision on fracking.

Signatories to the letter include health organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, District ll New York State, American Lung Association in New York, Clean Air Council, Breast Cancer Action, and Concerned Health Professionals of NY. More than a hundred medical and scientific experts including Jerome A. Paulson MD FAAP, Director of the Mid-Atlantic Center for Children’s Health & the Environment, Theo Colborn PhD, President The Endocrine Disruption Exchange, and George Woodwell PhD, NRDC Distinguished Scientist and founder of Woods Hole Research Center. Additionally, 150 elected officials are among the signatories, many environmental and public interest groups including Environmental Advocates of New York, Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter, 350.org, Working Families Party, and Citizens Campaign for the Environment, and notable individuals including Lois Gibbs, Gloria Steinem, Pete Seeger, Bill McKibben, Melissa Leo, and Mark Ruffalo.

Commissioner Shah, whose agency is conducting a review of fracking’s public health impacts, recently announced that he needed more time for his agency to finish its review. Shah also said “the time to ensure the impacts on public health are considered is before a state permits drilling,” and cited three studies – U.S. EPA’s study, Geisinger Health Systems’ study, and the University of Pennsylvania’s (in collaboration with scientists from Columbia, Johns Hopkins, Harvard and University of North Carolina) study – as representing the first comprehensive studies of fracking’s health impacts at either the federal or state level.

Making a decision on fracking in New York State without waiting for these studies’ results makes no sense. There is limited data and knowledge about exposure pathways or why people across the country are reporting illness from fracking. More study is necessary to understand these issues, as well as New York-specific concerns, in order to make an informed decision.

“We appreciate Governor Cuomo calling a ‘time out’ so that long-standing questions about health effects can be answered,” said Sandra Steingraber a biologist and founder of Concerned Health Professionals of New York.  “As Commissioner Shah noted, there are three comprehensive studies being undertaken.  New York should wait for those studies and open its own health study up to public comment.”

“On behalf of the over 6000 pediatricians in New York state that take care of our most valuable resource, our children, I would like to applaud the Governor for allowing the scientific process to be completed before issuing any permits to allow for high volume hydraulic fracturing,” said George Dunkel, Executive Director of American Academy of Pediatrics, District II/NY. “I need to stress that the children are not just small adults—children are affected much more acutely and are more vulnerable to environmental toxins than adults.  We thank the Governor for allowing this most important process to be completed and for his commitment to the children of New York.”

“Too many New Yorkers get sick and die prematurely because air pollution levels are too high,” said Michael Seilback Vice President of Public Policy and Communications at the American Lung Association in New York.  “High volume hydrofracking has the potential to  make things worse – worse for those living in areas where thousands of diesel trucks will commute daily and worse for the thousands of New Yorkers who will be exposed to deadly emissions from drilling in areas that have not previously had elevated levels of air pollution.  While we’ve made tremendous progress in cleaning our air, 3.2 million New Yorkers still live in areas where unhealthy air threatens their lives and health, as shown in the Lung Association’s State of the Air 2012 report.  We are asking Governor Cuomo to wait until experts have finished examining the science before making any decisions.  Please, make no decision until health questions are answered and health concerns are addressed: the lungs of millions of New Yorkers depend on it.”

“The medical community of New York has been calling for comprehensive health studies for two years, and these should be completed prior to the decision on shale gas extraction.  We are grateful that the Governor agrees with Dr. Shah to make public health the priority,” said Dr. Larysa Dyrszka.  “To accomplish that, it is critically important that the health review is put on hold until the studies Dr. Shah cites are completed and fully reviewed.  Further, there must be public comment and participation, and at least one public hearing on the current NY State health review.  And finally, all the concerns raised by the public and the medical community need to be addressed as part of a comprehensive and transparent Health Impact Assessment.”

“The gas industry has spent millions of dollars to bully Governor Cuomo into supporting its companies’ bottom line by opening the state to fracking,” said Katherine Nadeau, Water & Natural Resources Program Director at Environmental Advocates of New York.  “But the Governor stood up to the gas giants on behalf of average New Yorkers who have serious unanswered questions about fracking’s safety.   We look forward to an open public process that will undoubtedly accompany a health study, as the only way to answer the tough questions Dr. Shah raised is by shedding light on the state’s deliberations.”

To date, the Cuomo administration has not done a health study of fracking. Instead, three outside experts have been hired to help with a narrow, internal review written by the state. The administration has not released any substantial information to the public on its review and the medical and scientific community has not had an opportunity to comment or contribute.

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View the February 27, 2013 Letter to Governor Cuomo


Misinformed Outside Reviewer Demonstrates Inadequacy and Failure of New York State Fracking Health Review

Press Releases

State’s Health Review Discredited by Revelation that After Finishing Review, Outside Health Reviewer has Major Gaps in Understanding of Critical Health Issues Related to High Volume Fracking in NYS

(Albany) – Concerned Health Professionals of NY released a joint statement declaring New York State’s health impact assessment grossly inadequate and flawed. Following completion of his analysis of the state’s health review, outside reviewer, Richard Jackson, gave an hour-long webinar about health impacts in which he demonstrates an alarming lack of understanding about major issues relevant to fracking’s health impacts in New York State. The health experts released a written annotated transcript (attached) of Jackson’s webinar that illustrates gaps in Jackson’s knowledge of key issues. The annotations were written by Larysa Dyrszka, MD, Concerned Health Professionals of NY; Anthony Ingraffea, PhD, PE, Dwight C. Baum Professor of Engineering, Cornell University; Kathleen Nolan, MD, MSL, Catskill Mountainkeeper; and Sandra Steingraber, PhD, Distinguished Scholar in Residence, Ithaca College and founder, Concerned Health Professionals of New York.

Jackson’s lack of knowledge – coming after finishing his analysis of New York’s health review – undermines the credibility of the secret internal assessment the state has done. The assessment does not meet Governor Cuomo’s promise to conduct the most comprehensive health review ever and it is inadequate to ensure the protection of New Yorkers. The coalition calls on Governor Cuomo to open every facet of the state’s health review for public participation and comment, and calls on the governor not to make any decision about fracking or move forward in any way. 

Among the issues are:

  • Jackson praises as “excellent” a Pennsylvania study that has long been discredited as industry propaganda. Additionally the authors of that report are two of the same researchers who later authored the fraudulent report that prompted the University of Buffalo to shut down its Shale Resources and Society Institute last November.
  • Jackson says that he is “not in a position to debate” whether reports of water contamination from drilling and fracking operations are true or not. Why not? The information has been quantified, verified, and this should be a relevant data-based analysis.
  • Jackson mistakenly says that fracking wastewater is no longer discharged into rivers and streams. The practice goes on in other states and would be allowed with a special permit in New York State.
  • Jackson is misinformed about the contribution of shale gas extraction to climate change, and bases his statements on outdated information. For instance, Jackson says that “Methane is a greenhouse gas that aggravates global warming about 15 times more effectively than CO2.” This is incorrect information. Also see here. 

Along with the annotated transcript, Dr. Nolan and Dr. Steingraber of Concerned Health Professionals of NY released this statement:

“Richard Jackson’s ignorance of critical issues related to the health impacts of fracking demonstrates the inadequacy of New York State’s limited, secret, internal health review. The cursory and poorly informed content of Jackson’s January 9, 2012 one-hour, national webinar presentation undermines the credibility of the state’s review process, as it suggests that the materials provided to Dr. Jackson were dated and poorly sourced, rather than gleaned from up-to-the-minute peer-reviewed and independent scholarly reports. By his own account, Jackson gave the presentation, titled “Hydraulic Fracturing Impacts Human Health: Public Health Strategies to Reduce the Risks” after he finished his analysis of New York State’s health review.

“In his remarks, Jackson demonstrates limited and misinformed perspectives about many of the most significant issues around fracking, at one point praising as ‘excellent’ a Pennsylvania study that has been long discredited as industry propaganda and that was written by two of the same researchers who later authored the fraudulent report that prompted the University of Buffalo last November to shutter its Shale Resources and Society Institute.  At another point, Jackson says that he is ‘not in a position to debate’ whether reports of water contamination from drilling and fracking operations are true or not. In speaking about the discharge of fracking waste water into rivers and streams, he says, ‘that doesn’t go on any longer, I’m told,’ although the practice is common in other states with ongoing fracking operations and, in fact, would be allowed, with a special permit, under the draft regulations for fracking recently released in New York State. Jackson’s understanding of the contribution of shale gas extraction to climate change is incomplete and based on old research.

“For Jackson to be misinformed about critical issues after finishing his review demonstrates why allowing New York State’s health review to be narrow in scope and shrouded in secrecy is woefully inadequate. This is underscored by gaps in Richard Jackson’s knowledge about the myriad complicated pathways of potential exposure, well failures, rates of methane leakage, earthquakes, and hazardous air pollutants. Governor Cuomo has promised the citizens of New York the most comprehensive health review ever done, and New Yorkers have been told that the outside consultants would review it in great detail in order to ensure the safety of their families. There is now no doubt that the state’s review to date does not meet this standard. As Dr. Jackson himself says: ‘So big take away, I do think that research into safer and healthier energy sources and research into the health impacts of these sources and doing all cost accounting and full health impact assessment of our energy sources is what we need in the United States.’

“What Jackson calls for nationally, we need in New York. The Department of Health absolutely must open its health review for public participation and comment. Governor Cuomo must keep his promise to protect the health of New Yorkers. At this time there can be no decision about fracking, and the state cannot move forward in any way.” 

Gannett News reporter Jon Campbell revealed emails from Richard Jackson showing that he finished his review well before he gave this January 9, 2013 webinar. See the February 8, 2013 article by Campbell titled “Health consultants made fracking recommendations weeks ago.”

Dr. Kathleen Nolan, MD, MLS, Catskill Mountainkeeper, said,  “If New York State were to move forward based on the level of understanding of the health impacts of fracking as revealed in this presentation, New York State would be in big trouble.”

Sandra Steingraber, PhD, Concerned Health Professionals of New York, said, “As the day for the governor’s decision looms, we continue to be in the dark.  On the one hand we are told by DEC Commissioner Martens that the health review is determinative. On the other hand, we are told by DOH Commissioner Shah that the charge given the reviewers was very narrow. We don’t know what that narrow charge was nor what documents they received to review. And now one of the reviewers—a public health scientist whom I greatly admire—shows, during a public seminar, a very shaky grasp of the fundamentals of fracking. I’m not sleeping well.”

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Annotated Transcript of “Hydraulic Fracturing Impacts Human Health: Public Health Strategies to Reduce the Risks”

A webinar by Richard J. Jackson, MD, Professor and Chair, Environmental Health Sciences, UCLA School of Public Health


Concerned Health Professionals of NY Release Video Appeal to Independent Health Experts Reviewing Fracking

Press Releases

Approaching Dec. 3 Deadline, NY Health Professionals Call on Independent Reviewers to Demand a Comprehensive Health Impact Assessment

(Albany)—Following the November 27 launch of the Concerned Health Professionals of NY initiative, the group of medical experts released an eight-minute video appeal to the three independent health experts contracted by the Department of Health to review the DOH’s own internal health review of fracking. The Concerned Health Professionals of NY video summarizes a number of emerging, unresolved health concerns posed by fracking and the reasons that New York’s public health experts have insisted to Governor Cuomo that the enormously important task of assessing the impact of fracking on New Yorkers’ health requires a transparent, comprehensive Health Impact Assessment with full public participation. A hasty, secretive review is no substitute.  Only when all public health and environmental concerns associated with fracking have been fully resolved should Governor Cuomo make a decision whether or not to lift the state’s current moratorium and allow fracking in New York State.

To date, no one in the public or medical community has seen the DEC’s review of health impacts, nor has the Cuomo Administration shared details regarding who or what has been involved in its development and execution. As the three independent reviewers examine the DEC’s findings about the impacts of fracking on public health, the public and the medical and scientific community are still in the dark, and no one knows what the process or opportunity for input will be. Yet one of the contracted experts, Lynn Goldman made statements to the press that she has a December 3rd, 2012 deadline to complete her work even though she had signed a contract only 10 days prior and had not yet seen the DOH’s review. And on Thursday, it was revealed that the contract of another of the three reviewers specifies a pay rate of $480 per hour with a $12,000 cap, which allows for only 25 hours of work.

In a personal appeal in the video, Sandra Steingraber, Ph.D., biologist and Distinguished Scholar in Residence, Ithaca College, describes how her family’s fate hangs in the balance of the health review’s findings, and yet she has no input into the study’s design.  “We all know each other, the four of us—the three panelists and myself. We go to the same conferences.  We have served on some of the same panels. We’ve won some of the same awards. . . .Now you have access to documents and data that I do not have. Now I am your data. So I’m wondering what you will do. I’m wondering what our relationship is. These documents and data profoundly affect me not only as a biologist and an environmental health scientist but as a mother of a child with asthma.”

Larysa Dyrszka, M.D., retired pediatrician and advocate for children’s right to health, describes for the reviewers the gaps and gross inadequacies of the supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement, “The issues that we have called to the DEC’s attention in 80,000 comments include many health impacts, things that were not addressed in the SGEIS, such as radioactivity, community impacts, worker safety. There are pathways of exposure that need to be identified even though the DEC feels that their measures are going to be protective enough that it won’t happen. Well, accidents happen.”

The six health experts featured in the video explain a number of the unresolved health impacts of fracking, including pathways of exposure.

Dr. David O. Carpenter, Director of of the Institute for Health & Environment at the University at Albany, requests that the reviewers consider exposures to radioactivity, “In some of these fracking fluids, we see levels of radioactivity from radium 226 that are thousands of times higher than the standard for drinking water and that are hundreds of times higher than the standards for release of wastewater. But wastewater treatment plants in general do not remove radioactive materials, so then it gets dumped into the local river or stream, and often the intake for the drinking water is downstream from where the wastewater goes in. The big concern is that we will end up with radiation exposure from drinking water that people don’t even know about.”

Margaret Roberts, representing the New York State Breast Cancer Network, urges to reviewers to address the link between diesel exhaust and breast cancer risk. “With fracking there is a 24 hour cycle of constant truck traffic which creates extensive pollution around fracking sites, and there are studies that strongly suggest that women who are exposed to PAH’s in air pollution when they are pregnant or when their children are young, the children will grow up to be at higher risk of cancer later on.”

Concerned Health Professionals of NY is alarmed that the DEC’s release of revised regulations and the accompanying 90-day extension means that fracking is being rushed forward. Putting out revised regulations before the DOH’s own panel of health experts have had a chance to weigh in indicates that the regulations are being based on political expediency, not science. Fracking poses potentially severe public health impacts. Only the most rigorous science must drive the decision, not arbitrary deadlines. This is no place for rush jobs or secrecy. That’s why only an independent, comprehensive Health Impact Assessment is sufficient, which would include public participation, transparency, and follows procedures recognized by leading medical organizations such as the World Health Organization.

Dr. David Carpenter insists that any study of fracking’s health consequences must quantify the associated medical costs. “Economic development at the expense of the health of the public is not a net gain, it’s a net loss because of the costs of the health care, the costs of loss of years of life, the costs of all the medications one must take, and therefore it is extremely important that we have this risk / benefit analysis done right.”

Sandra Steingraber, PhD, describes the conundrum of New York’s environmental health scientists and doctors who live in upstate communities targeted by gas drillers. “We deal with data and evidence, and now we are living in a place that could become a study site for an environmental travesty. We could become the data points in an uncontrolled human experience.  If we massively industrialize our rural landscape here in NY and fill it up with carcinogens, fill it up with endocrine disrupting chemicals, and lay down a blanket of smog, then we set in motion the wheels of a human experiment. And now we’re the subjects, the un-consenting subjects, of that experiment.”

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On November 27, 2012, Philip Landrigan, MD, Chair of the Dept. of Preventive Medicine and Director, Children’s Environmental Health Center at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine released this statement:

“By insisting on a comprehensive health impact assessment as a precondition for a decision to permit or prohibit hydraulic fracturing in our state, Concerned Health Professionals of New York is upholding the fundamental principles of preventive medicine. The unique vulnerability of children to chemical contaminants and air pollution – of the kind we know are associated with drilling and fracking operations – means that we must undertake the most thorough investigation and seek the input of many experts. This is no time for secrecy. Members of New York’s medical community must have access to the documents that are now under review by the team of outside reviewers. The public – who are being asked to assume risks of fracking – must likewise have input to the scientific process that is judging those risks.”


Health Professionals Outline Health Risks of Fracking and Call for Transparency and Participation in DOH Review

Press Releases

(Albany)— Led by Dr. David O. Carpenter, Director of the Institute for Health and the Environment at the University at Albany’s School of Public Health, a number of health experts launched a new initiative, “Concerned Health Professionals of New York” (www.concernedhealthny.org) to outline the health risks of fracking and to renew their call for an independent, comprehensive Health Impact Assessment. The health experts in Albany spoke on behalf of the broad medical and scientific community in New York State, where hundreds of medical professionals and scientists have been outspoken about concerns that fracking poses a threat to public health.

The new initiative, Concerned Health Professionals of New York, seeks to provide the public, press, elected officials and other health professionals with information about the health risks posed by fracking as well as a history of how hundreds of health professionals have been calling on Governor Cuomo to conduct a comprehensive Health Impacts Assessment to adequately study the impact of fracking on public health before making a decision whether or not to lift the state’s current moratorium and allow fracking in New York State.

Larysa Dyrszka, M.D., retired pediatrician and advocate for children’s right to health, said, “As a tool for understanding the health risks of a polluting industry, there is no substitute for a comprehensive, transparent health impact assessment with public input.  We know that, and we know the advisory panel knows that.  But because we don’t  know what documents the advisors will be allowed to ‘review,’ we’ve compiled this website of information for their further consideration.”

The health professionals detailed a series of health concerns that they believe cannot be avoided, including radioactivity, dangerous air pollution, and water contamination.

Sandra Steingraber, Ph.D., biologist and Distinguished Scholar in Residence, Ithaca College, said, “A pall of ignorance hangs over fracking.  Emissions data, monitoring data, exposure data–these are the things you need in order to judge health effects, and where are they?  Held hostage by non-disclosure agreements, gag orders, and right-to-know exemptions.  We feel certain that these three panelists will see, as we do, the huge data gaps–as well as the emerging signals of harm in other states where fracking operations are ongoing.”

In September, the Department of Environmental Conservation announced that they had conducted their own internal health review and that it would be reviewed the Department of Health. The Department of Health recently announced that three independent health experts had been contracted to review the Department of Health’s internal review. One of the experts, Lynn Goldman made statements to the press that she has a December 3rd, 2012 deadline to complete her work even though she had signed a contract only 10 days prior and had not yet seen the DOH’s review.

“How can the state of New York ask three outstanding public health experts to evaluate the many risks of fracking–radiation, diesel exhaust, silica dust, traffic noise, toxic spills–and give them a few weeks to do the job?” said Dr. David O. Carpenter.  “It’s ridiculous.”

Health experts also commented on the November 29th State Administrative Procedure Act (SAPA) deadline and called on Governor Cuomo to not commit to the arbitrary deadline of a 90 day extension but instead allow science and public participation to guide the process.

“With the health and well-being of millions of New Yorkers at stake, we are asking Governor Cuomo to allow for science and a public process to guide his decision on whether or not to lift the state’s current moratorium on fracking and not hold to the arbitrary deadline of a 90 day extension,” said Sandra Steingraber, Ph.D. “Our efforts today are to renew the call for a comprehensive Health Impact Assessment, which will allow for New York’s State’s medical community to participate in a transparent public process.”

To date, no one in the public or medical community has seen the DEC’s review of health impacts, nor has the Cuomo Administration shared details regarding who or what has been involved in its development and execution. As the three researchers examine the DEC’s findings about the impacts of fracking on public health, the public and the medical and scientific community are still in the dark and no one knows what the process or opportunity for input will be. The health experts emphasized at their press conference that only a comprehensive Health Impact Assessment is sufficient, which would include public participation, transparency, and follows procedures recognized by leading medical organizations such as the World Health Organization.

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