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The role of ethics in shale gas policies

Peer Reviewed, Public Health

Abstract

The United States has experienced a boom in natural gas production due to recent technological innovations that have enabled natural gas to be produced from unconventional sources, such as shale. There has been much discussion about the costs and benefits of developing shale gas among scientists, policy makers, and the general public. The debate has typically revolved around potential gains in economics, employment, energy independence, and national security as well as potential harms to the environment, the climate, and public health. In the face of scientific uncertainty, national and international governments must make decisions on how to proceed. So far, the results have been varied, with some governments banning the process, others enacting moratoria until it is better understood, and others explicitly sanctioning shale gas development. These policies reflect legislature’s preferences to avoid false negative errors or false positive ones. Here we argue that policy makers have a prima facie duty to minimize false negatives based on three considerations: (1) protection from serious harm generally takes precedence over the enhancement of welfare; (2) minimizing false negatives in this case is more respectful to people’s autonomy; and (3) alternative solutions exist that may provide many of the same benefits while minimizing many of the harms.

Fracking by the Numbers: Key Impacts of Dirty Drilling at the State and National Level

Air Pollution, Public Health, Reports, Water Contamination

Click here to access this report.


Air quality in the Industrial Heartland of Alberta, Canada and potential impacts on human health

Air Pollution, Peer Reviewed, Public Health

Abstract

The “Industrial Heartland” of Alberta is Canada’s largest hydrocarbon processing center, with more than 40 major chemical, petrochemical, and oil and gas facilities. Emissions from these industries affect local signair quality and human health. This paper characterizes ambient levels of 77 volatile organic compounds sign(VOCs) in the region using high-precision measurements collected in summer 2010. Remarkably strong enhancements of 43 VOCs were detected, and concentrations in the industrial plumes were often similar to or even higher than levels measured in some of the world’s largest cities and industrial regions. For example maximum levels of propene and i-pentane exceeded 100 ppbv, and 1,3-butadiene, a known carcinogen, reached 27 ppbv. Major VOC sources included propene fractionation, diluent separation and bitumen processing. Emissions of the measured VOCs increased the hydroxyl radical reactivity (kOH), a measure of the potential to form downwind ozone, from 3.4 s–1 in background air to 62 s–1 in the most concentrated plumes. The plume value was comparable to polluted megacity values, and acetaldehyde, propene and 1,3-butadiene contributed over half of the plume kOH. Based on a 13-year record (1994 e2006) at the county level, the incidence of male hematopoietic cancers (leukemia and non-Hodgkin lymphoma) was higher in communities closest to the Industrial Heartland compared to neighboring counties. While a causal association between these cancers and exposure to industrial emissions cannot be confirmed, this pattern and the elevated VOC levels warrant actions to reduce emissions of known carcinogens, including benzene and 1,3-butadiene.

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US-Ukraine energy conference, September 21-27, 2013

Reports

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Reckless Endangerment While Fracking the Eagle Ford

Air Pollution, Reports

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Health Impacts of Shale Gas Extraction and Production

Public Testimony

Larysa Dyrszka MD
DRBC September 11, 2013
Completed health studies, both in the peer-reviewed literature and those initiated or reported by grassroots groups and the press, indicate that significant negative health impacts occur near gas exploration and production activities.  Emerging health studies, including the Geisinger and University of Pennsylvania studies will give a clearer picture over the next few years.  Most importantly, there are many people who have already been impacted in states where gas extraction using high volume hydraulic fracturing is permitted. We must carefully study these cases and determine pathways of exposure and contamination – scientific information that is fundamental to making informed decisions about the process.  As we review the studies already completed, and speak with impacted people, we are increasingly aware that there are stressors on health that cannot be mitigated. 
For these reasons, explained in more detail below, a moratorium on permitting gas extraction using high volume hydraulic fracturing must continue.  Only after we gain a clear understanding of why people become ill near gas development activities can a decision be made whether to permit this activity, or ban it altogether.  We cannot gamble with people’s health.
Over the past couple of years, the medical community in NY State has repeatedly called on our Governor to stop the process which would lead to permitting and pay heed to the science.  In 2010 the American Academy of Pediatrics of NY State (AAPNYS) issued a Memo of Support for the moratorium tied to the EPA study.  The AAPNYS, together with other medical organizations in NY—the American Academy of Family Physicians of NYS, the NYS chapter of the American Nurses Association, the Medical Society of the State of NY, and others—asked for additional health studies, including a comprehensive, inclusive and transparent Health Impact Assessment (HIA) to be undertaken in NY State where gas drilling has not yet begun.
The Governor recently stated  that he is taking the science under advisement.  And that’s a good thing because science is confirming that gas drilling is too risky to human health to go forward as it’s currently done.  I hope that the Governor’s representative on the Delaware River Basin Commission moves with the same caution.
Recent climate events have also served to convince our lawmakers that climate change is real.  Recently, a paper was published whose authors from Stanford, Cornell and Physicians, Scientists and Engineers for Healthy Energy demonstrate how NY State can be totally fueled by renewables by 2030. The same could be true for the other states of the DRBC. http://www.psehealthyenergy.org/site/view/1083
Three major studies, which will shed light on health, are underway:
–the Geisinger study will use electronic records, which are already in place, to track certain diseases;
http://pipeline.post-gazette.com/news/archives/25056-1-million-grant-for-pa-gas-drilling-health-study
http://poststar.com/news/local/fb6c60aa-88de-11e2-8a9f-001a4bcf887a.html
The Geisinger study is a health outcomes design and plans to measure exposures through the use of geocoding;
–the U Penn study
http://green.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/01/21/taking-a-harder-look-at-fracking-and-health/
(This description of the UPenn study is from a personal communication):
Study [1] ‘Field Survey of Health Perception and Complaints of PA Residents in the Marcellus Shale” led by Dr. Poune Saberi-Funded by UPenn-EHSCC, and will be published shorty;
Study [2] An inter-Center Pilot Project: “Groundwater Quality and health Outcomes in Adjacent Areas With and Without Hydrofracturing Activities” funded by Columbia EHSCC and UPenn EHSCC, with results in a year or two;
Study [3] An inter-Center Pilot Project: “Harvard WorldMap: Fracking Research Repository for All Concerned (HWM: FRRAC)” funded by Harvard EHSCC and UPenn.
Study [1] is being prepared for publication and studies [2] and [3] have just been funded, with results in a year or two.
The above studies are just beginning, but preliminary information will be available in approximately one year;
–the EPA HF study; an interim progress report was issued in December 2012  http://www.epa.gov/hfstudy/pdfs/hf-report20121214.pdf ; the study is funded and due to completed in 2016; this study focuses on the potential pathways of exposure related to water;
PEER REVIEWED LITERATURE
Peer reviewed papers are the gold standard in medicine.  The papers on the health impacts near gas drilling operations that are emerging include the work of our colleagues at Cornell, Michelle Bamberger and Robert Oswald, who documented several cases where chemicals associated with drilling were implicated in negative health outcomes in animals and people.  http://www.psehealthyenergy.org/Impacts_of_Gas_Drilling_on_Human_and_Animal_Health
One of the several cases they describe was the death of 17 cows within one hour from direct exposure to hydraulic fracturing fluid. The final necropsy report listed the most likely cause of death as respiratory failure with circulatory collapse.  The hydraulic fracturing fluid that they drank contained petroleum hydro-carbons plus other toxins.
Another case documented was the death of companion animals with gas operations nearby—and road-spreading of waste was implicated.
Two cases provided unplanned but inadvertent control experiments—another standard in research– since herds of cows were kept in different pastures. The cows that drank contaminated water had a high death rate, and a high rate of stillborn and deformed calves.
In one of the homes, a child became ill with fatigue, confusion, abdominal and back pain.  After several animals in the household had died, the doctor became suspicious of toxins and testing revealed arsenic in the child.  The family then stopped drinking the water despite results which showed the well water was safe and he eventually recovered, having lost a year of school.  In these cases, there were 25 wells within two miles of the homes, and there was also the aerated impoundment, and two compressor stations within a mile.  While checking for other toxins in these two homes, random urine tests on family members revealed phenol, a metabolite of benzene; symptoms observed by families in both homes included extreme fatigue, headaches, nosebleeds, rashes, and sensory deficits (smell and hearing).  Were it not for the deaths of the animals, the human health effects would not have been found.
Their study illustrates several plausible links between gas drilling and negative health effects.
Drs Bamberger and Oswald are the guest editors of an entire edition of a journal called New Solutions, and it is dedicated to impacts of gas drilling.  All raise concerns whether gas drilling as it is currently done is safe. http://baywood.metapress.com/link.asp?id=k01404273056 (pre-publication, galley proofs can be found here).
Elaine Hill is documenting how proximity to gas wells affects birth weight, and she is finding that it does, and it is a negative impact which will likely cost the government healthcare dollars in the long run. http://ourhealthandenvironment.wordpress.com/2012/07/21/fracking-and-low-birth-weight-preliminary-evidence/
Medical colleagues in Utah are dealing with unprecedented levels of dangerous air pollution, estimating billions of dollars of additional healthcare costs due to exposure to ozone, PAHs, endocrine disruptors and other chemicals which will plague the population for generations. (personal communication, Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, wrote that they think the costs of air pollution in Utah, pop. 3 million, are already $10 to 12 Billion; and Dr Kirtley Jones comments on health impacts on babies http://environews.tv/dr-kirtly-jones-reveals-the-damage-caused-to-fetuses-and-young-children-by-elevated-air-pollution/ )
Early results from an on-the-ground public health assessment from the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project (SWPA-EHP) indicate that environmental contamination is occurring near natural gas drilling sites and is the likely cause of associated illnesses.
According to this assessment, in one small county of about 200,000 people, 27 people thought they were getting sick and went to a single rural health clinic and fracking was determined to be a plausible cause.
Since drilling has only been going on for six years in this area, it does not include chronic illnesses that can take years to manifest.
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.
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 cleanup.
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, significantly 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. Water contamination often takes a while to appear. 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.
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. But Washington County shows that they are here, and we have every reason to expect that they are not yet fully visible and they are growing.  https://concernedhealthny.org/category/press-releases/
www.concernedhealthny.org and www.psehealthyenergy.org  list additional and updated peer-reviewed articles, reports and testimonies from health professionals, and please see  more references at the end of this paper.
STRESSORS ON HEALTH FROM SHALE GAS EXTRACTION WHICH CANNOT BE ELIMINATED
–ABANDONED WELLS  —
WELL CASING INTEGRITY –all wells will eventually leak since casings and cement are man-made and will not withstand decades of high-pressure and corrosive materials.  Abandoned wells include ignored wells; it would be extremely costly to plug all of them, and the locations of many  are unmapped.
–AIR and WATER CONTAMINATION –cannot be 100% contained with current use of triple casings; chemical leakage will follow the methane leaks which have been documented and occur with regularity.
FLARING –releases chemicals, creates particulates and causes symptoms (observed by health professionals); at issue are the unknown chemicals, exemptions, and the fact that the technology does not exist for alternatives.
DIESEL EXHAUST –from trucks, compressors, processing plants; no cumulative impacts have been considered, yet it is clear that there are health impacts from these emitters; modeling has shown that impacts may be experienced at six miles; diesel exhaust is now considered a definite canrcinogen.
WATER CONTAMINATION –residents have barium, arsenic, VOCs, methane, radionuclides and other toxins in their water wells claimed to be a result of drilling nearby, and which is denied by industry; residents whose blood results I have seen  have these in their blood.
AIR POLLUTION –has been shown to be associated with neurodevelopmental disorders, lower IQ in babies born to mothers with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon exposure during pregnancy, and learning disorders in exposed children. (see references at end of paper).
The American Academy of Pediatrics notes that children are especially vulnerable because their lungs continue to grow and enlarge until about age 18. Plus children breathe faster and are closer to the ground. As they mature in the presence of ozone, alveolar production is reduced, and the result of chronic ozone exposure can be brittle lungs like those of an elderly adult.
And since the World Health Organization has now classified diesel exhaust as a definite carcinogen, it raises additional concerns for workers and other vulnerable groups exposed to diesel exhaust.
Silica is the sand that is used in hydraulic fracturing.  It is mined in Minnesota and Wisconsin and is not regulated as a hazardous pollutant by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.  NIOSH has identified exposure to crystalline silica during hydraulic fracturing as the most significant known health hazard to workers.   It is also a hazard to the workers in the Midwest mining it and to the residents living nearby.
Inhalation of fine dusts of crystalline silica can cause silicosis which is an incurable lung disease.   It’s also been determined to be a lung carcinogen.
–ACCIDENTS—happen, even with best management practices and regulations.
–CHEMICALS –including both introduced and those from down-hole; related to DIESEL and AIR CONTAMINATION; federal exemptions limit information; observed symptoms include respiratory, cardiovascular and/or neurologic problems; interaction of chemicals with other chemicals and with naturally-occurring substances have not been studied (limited by NDAs and federal exemptions).
ENDOCRINE-DISRUPTING CHEMICALS (EDCs)–a large percentage (about 40% according to Dr Theo Colborn) are EDCs which impact children and the unborn disproportionately.
FOOD CHAIN CONTAMINATION –animals are sentinels; soil farming with gas well waste occurs with some regularity, as does road spreading.
The toxic chemicals are classified as secret, or proprietary, which hampers health studies, but we know it includes known or suspected carcinogens, mutagens, neurotoxins, hazardous air pollutants, and endocrine disruptors which have effects at very low doses.
COMMUNITY IMPACTS – Besides the environment, community well-being is another major determinant of health.
In areas where the drilling has occurred it has splintered the residents into the minority who benefit financially– like those who have leased large acreages, some businesses like motels and diners, those who get jobs in the industry, drug traffickers, and politicians who are given money for their campaigns.  But  those who lose are the majority—homeowners who have lost their water, the value of their homes and their health.  The stress of not knowing if and when that loss will occur is also significant, and research provides evidence that such stress can negatively impact a person’s health.  People already under stress from an underlying illness, or poor socioeconomic status, or because they are simply very young or very old and therefore a vulnerable population, suffer environmental and societal impacts less well than people who are not so stressed.
There is also the potential loss of traditional, sustainable jobs, such as in tourism and farming which could be displaced when a high impact industry such as gas extraction moves into a region.
VULNERABLE POPULATIONS AND SOCIAL JUSTICE – this extractive industry not only impacts vulnerable populations in a disproportionate way, it also creates vulnerable groups, eg, sick workers, small-for-gestational-age babies, etc .
WORKER HEALTH — these workers are part of the community and their ill-health taxes the family and the community, and eventually the state.
SILICA USE – highly toxic to workers and community where it is mined, stored and used.
ECONOMIC BUST –few years of prosperity for some (but there will be inequity), and then there will be a bust (documented).
–HUMAN ECOLOGY–

    • Vulnerable populations are created but not protected
    • Economics impact human health
    • Food chain contamination will eventually impact humans
    • Occupational safety –the on-the-job fatality rate of oil and gas workers is eight times higher than the rate for all U.S. workers, as reported by the Centers for Disease Control.


–NOISE POLLUTION
–EU study links noise to CV and neurologic ill health http://www.euro.who.int/__data/assets/pdf_file/0008/136466/e94888.pdf
–PATHWAYS OF EXPOSURE exist but their identification is limited by non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) and federal exemptions, as well as limited funding for research;

  • Source of contamination: Cement casing leaks >7% PA wells/abandoned wells
  • Environmental media and transport mechanism: Soluble/volatile and particulate.  slickwater.  Drilling muds.  Flowback/produced water/Waste
  • Points of exposure
  • Route of exposure
  • Receptor population – human ecology


–RADIOACTIVITY
  — high radon in indoor air, gas and in water from the Marcellus shale area already exists. http://pubs.usgs.gov/of/2009/1257/pdf/ofr20091257.pdf, http://pubs.usgs.gov/of/2012/1150/pdf/ofr2012-1150_report_508.pdf, http://pubs.usgs.gov/sir/2011/5135/pdf/sir2011-5135.pdf

A federal exemption to the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act allows anything that has come from down hole to be exempt from hazardous classification.

–STRESS (related to everything) – leads to depression and other mental health issues
–WASTE – NY is already receiving toxic waste from PA, and this process is inadequately controlled;  there is no place to safely put the waste due to radioactivity, heavy metals, TDS, VOCs;  road spreading and soil farming are unacceptable (animals have died).
For decades we have known the Marcellus shale to be more radioactive than other shales.  The radioactive elements found in Marcellus shales include uranium, thorium, radium and also radon.
Radon is the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers and the second leading cause among smokers, and accounts for 21,000 lung cancer deaths per year on a nationwide basis, according to the EPA.  Also from the EPA, we know that areas overlying the Marcellus shale have high indoor radon, on average, already, and will be at risk if exposed to radon additionally via delivered gas which we believe will be higher in radon than is safe.  The only “safe” level of radon is “0 picoCuries/L”.  No environmental or health agency is tracking the radioactive exposure at the well site (radon and radium), in pipelines (radon, radium, lead, polonium) or at end use—people’s homes (radon).
The press has exposed industry practices such as dangerous disposal of radioactive waste (NYTimes).  A federal exemption to the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act allows anything that has come from down hole to be exempt from hazardous classification.  So this waste, including radioactive drill cuttings and sludge, can be spread on roads, buried on site, released into streams or sent to town dumps or POTWs which can leach into drinking water.  And there’s the underground injection of toxins which then contaminate drinking water which Propublica has exposed.
EMERGING HEALTH STUDIES ARE VITAL
So why is gas drilling with HVHF proceeding when scientific evidence is pointing to such significant community and environmental hazards?
In 2005, Congress passed the Energy Policy Act, also known as the Halliburton loophole (Cheney retired from Halliburton in July 2000, when he was tapped by Bush for the vice-presidency) http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/8870039/#.UMTpQoM8CSo
In effect, the 2005 Energy Policy Act exempted the oil and gas industry from key provisions of the most important environmental and public health laws, such as the SDWA, CAA, CWA, RCRA, NEPA, CERCLA aka Superfund, and others.  The federal exemptions were passed seven years ago (Highlights of Oil and Gas Industry Exemptions From Federal Statutes http://www.citizenscampaign.org/PDFs/cce_hvhf_wp_final.pdf), and during that time the oil&gas industry has been minimally overseen.  So we do not know the extent to which health or environmental impacts have occurred, though we know that people in close proximity to oil and gas exploration and production activities perceive that they have been negatively impacted.
Other reasons for the paucity of scientific information:
–Most of the peer-reviewed literature on health impacts has been published only in the last 1-2 years.
–Research funding has been limited.
–State regulations vary but so far have not included health literature, doctors and public health professionals.  In fact, in Pennsylvania there is a gag order to be imposed on physicians if information to assist in the treatment of a patient is disclosed to that doctor, and Colorado seems to be following suit.
–We know that accidents happen and violations occur, despite the best regulations.
–Non-disclosure agreements hamper access to important information. http://www.post-gazette.com/stories/business/legal/washington-county-judge-orders-marcellus-shale-development-settlement-records-unsealed-680087/?print=1
Another obstacle has recently emerged in certain states, and that is limiting the information that doctors can share if they receive vital chemical information from industry in order to treat their patients.  In Pennsylvania and Colorado, doctors are required to sign a non-disclosure agreement in exchange for life-saving information. http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2012/03/fracking-doctors-gag-pennsylvania   and http://www.denverpost.com/environment/ci_22827696/colorado-docs-chafe-at-secrecy-oath-needed-access#ixzz2O658UecK
It has come to the point that non-governmental organizations are engaging in research:  Earthworks just published a paper on a survey done in Pennsylvania which demonstrates negative health impacts close to wells.  Amy Mall of NRDC has a list of hundreds of cases of water contamination; Damascus Citizens for Sustainability is doing baseline methane monitoring in select localities.
IMPACTED PEOPLE
People near gas drilling sites in Pennsylvania, Colorado, Texas and other states have had a rash of unexplained illnesses, sick and dying pets and livestock, contaminated drinking water, unacceptably high ozone in areas that were known previously for their pristine air quality, lost homes and shattered communities.
I have spoken with impacted families who have become ill since their air or drinking water became contaminated after a gas well was drilled near their home, or compressor stations erected nearby, and referred them for further evaluation in New York City’s Mt Sinai Hospital, as well as to the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project (SWPA-EHP) http://www.environmentalhealthproject.org/.  these people have skin lesions, headaches and other neurological problems;
–there are those with breathing problems when gas wells are vented;
–and a pregnant woman who was having seizures, and was surrounded by gas wells;
–and the mother of a child with arsenic in his blood; that family was also dealing with water that had turned after drilling, and with dead and ill animals;
–and there are others that we know about, and the only advice to offer them is not to drink the water—but we can’t advise people to stop breathing the air.
–I have also spoken with a woman in Erie Colorado whose family has had exacerbations of asthma and recently they’ve begun experiencing neurological problems; Erie CO has many gas wells and compressors http://www.denverpost.com/business/ci_20553795/colorado-join-studies-air-quality-around-oil-and .
–Last year I travelled to Paradise Road in Wyalusing, Bradford County to speak with a group of people who had leased and who already had contaminated water–many of the homes on Paradise Road had visible water buffaloes.  Shockingly, these people had never spoken with a doctor about their water contamination and the possible health implications.  The couple hosting this gathering was expecting a baby…  A few months later we learned that the baby was born with a cardiac defect.  Chance?  Perhaps…but maybe not…and no public health, state or federal agency ever asked about the environmental history.
–Over the past week I have spoken with two families.  These are their stories:
The first family was well, living modestly on family-owned land which sits in a valley, until 2008.  The children were average to very good students, with excellent attendance records.
Although rural, this area was a coal mining region.
In 2005 an electric compressor was placed on the hill above their home, about 500-700 ft away.
In 2008 two gas compressors joined the first one on the hill.  Also in 2008 five gas wells were spudded and completed on another hilltop, less than one-half mile away from the house, plus a glycol dehydrator and a sludge tank.
Around the end of 2008, and early 2009, the mother and grandmother began observing changes, subtle at first, in the children, as well as in themselves.
Over the course of the years since 2008/2009, there have been odor events noted numerous times.  The odors have been chlorine-like, and at other times sweet-smelling.  These occur almost every day.  It may be preceded by a vapor mist, which appears to have tiny bubbles, that comes downhill from the compressors.  On occasion there are what the family would characterize as extremely odorous events, where it is difficult to breathe.  Significant health impacts occur right after such events.
One of the twin sons, who was an average student with perfect attendance, developed headaches, rashes and behavior changes, beginning in 2008/2009.  These were minor at first, but have worsened.  He began missing school and was more difficult to manage.   In 2012 he began having involuntary movements that appeared tic-like, tremulousness on occasion, shaking hands and seemed to lack coordination.  He had a neurological work –up and is under the care of a neurologist who prescribed an anti-seizure medication.  He has recently been evaluated by the Individualized Education Program (IEP) team at school because of poor performance.
The other twin has had a similar course as his brother.  He also developed abnormal movements a short while later than the first twin, and he is also being treated with the anti-seizure drug.  After having been an honors student, he is also now undergoing an IEP evaluation. The twins currently weigh about 90 lbs, and have had very little, if any, weight gain in two years.
A 13 yo son suffers from severe headaches for which he is medicated, and he has lost days of school.  Since last week he has also had abnormal movements and just had an EEG and he was also started on the anti-seizure meds.  He is also very sensitive to noise; his room faces the compressors and therefore receives the most noise. When the compressors are running, which is most of the time, the family describes the noise as similar to ten trains.  The blowdowns occur without notice.
An 18 yo daughter began having behavior problems and slowed speech at age 16.  An evaluation by the neurologist included an EEG and MRI, and revealed that she had had a stroke.
A  20 yo daughter and not living in the house for the past year, but lives not far and visits, has had headaches, abnormal hand movements, leg pain and memory problems.
The mother was also previously healthy.  Over the past few years she has had gastrointestinal problems (improved when she stopped drinking the water) and has lost about 50 lbs. In 2010 she noted a very strong chlorine-like smell which “took her breath away” and to which she was exposed for about 2 to 3 minutes.  She felt ill immediately and shortly thereafter developed congestion, and blisters in her nose, on her neck, face and arms (exposed skin areas).  About three months later, because she was pale and had continued blistering of the mucous membranes, particularly the nasal mucosa, she returned to the hospital.  Following an evaluation, the health professionals recommended that the family evacuate the house and also a Hazmat team visit, but none appeared.  The mother has also seen the neurologist for weakness, memory problems, trembling hands and a feeling described as “bugs crawling on the skin”.  She has been diagnosed with polyneuropathy and is on medication.
The grandmother has hypertension and tachycardia, and is on medication for these conditions.
In 2010 the mother and grandmother both had bloodwork for environmental toxins.  The grandmother had phenol, benzene, arsenic, and cadmium in her blood; the mother had phenol and benzene.  The children were not tested.
All the family members have had rashes which appear occasionally, described as red, occasionally slightly raised.  The family recalls one specific episode of these rashes in the children, in 2010 , following another chlorine odor event.
On July 3rd of this year there was a strong sweet-smelling odor event that was followed by diffuse red rashes in the boys who had been playing outside.  One boy developed a boil in the groin which improved, in time, after two rounds of antibiotics, but recently another boil developed.   The other boy developed a boil and cellulitis in the axilla this past week.  They never had such infections.
Additional Environmental History:
GAS WELLS—there are five on the opposite hill which were fracked in 2008, during which time there were two frack ponds.  In 2009 a neighbor whose house overlooked the ponds noticed that a creek that runs between his house and this family’s house suddenly flooded and the water turned black in the creek.  This creek is 15-20 ft from their yard.
PETS—There is a small dog owned by the grandmother who, whenever he had been outside, was seen licking his paws afterwards, and then he would vomit.  The dog no longer wants to go outside, especially when the decking is moist from rain or what appears to be dew, but could be the vapors that come down the hill from the compressors (often noticed in the evenings), as they also cover the house with a moist film.  The grandmother separately noticed that when she took the plant covers from her tomatoes, that covering, which often had some moisture on it, burned her hands.
The family has not been evaluated by any public health agency, although DEP takes spot air samples.
The second family works in the industry.  The husband does construction work as a sub-contractor.  He describes one episode where his crew were doing work and there was a blowback, a foggy material was released and covered the ground, and the accompanying fluid spraying his workers with a burning fluid.  He had no idea what the material was, and they were not wearing any protective gear.
He has seen too many dead cows and deer not far from gas development areas, he says.
But the story is about his wife.  About five years ago, the wife took a job painting glycol dehydrators, well heads, brine tanks and other infrastructure on working well sites and compressor stations.  Immediately following one of the first jobs, as she started the drive home, she felt nauseated, developed a severe headache, a sore throat and by the time she got home she was covered in rash on all the exposed parts of her body.  Eventually some of the red rash evolved into open sores.  These came and went.  The husband reports that she has the scars from these sores.  The wife stopped going on these jobs after several of these episodes.  Then, she started to have behavior changes—irritability and forgetfulness.  She has now been diagnosed with dementia, and is in a doctor’s care and being medicated for that.
About four years ago she developed an excoriated area on the top of her ear, which seemed never to completely heal.  At this point, the top of her ear is gone, and two days ago the lesion was biopsied for cancer.
Her case has never been reported to any public health agency.
–The List of the Harmed has over a thousand “anecdotes”. http://pennsylvaniaallianceforcleanwaterandair.wordpress.com/the-list/
Those of us who have been following this issue closely know of many cases of illness near gas drilling operations and most are called anecdotes because pathways of exposure have not been identified, which is when you don’t have a link from the toxin to the illness.  Those links are not yet proven because research on health impacts is just now emerging. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3339470/ .  Also, doctors who are practitioners haven’t been educated on environmental issues and do not routinely take an environmental history, which is necessary if a causal effect is ever to be established.  As an end result and most importantly, the complaints of the patients are not investigated by those tasked with protecting public health.  And, if patients complain directly to the companies, and the families receive compensation, the records of the transactions are often sealed through non-disclosure agreements.
Prominent scientists who have been at the forefront of both research and patient care recently wrote to the Albany Times Union.
In “Assessing the risks of fracking”, Dr David Brown (SWPA-Environmental Health Project) points to several lessons learned http://www.timesunion.com/opinion/article/Assessing-the-risks-of-fracking-4342593.php .
“Beware impact of fracking” is a commentary urging caution from Dr Theo Colborn (The Endocrine Disruption Exchange), and Nadia Steinzor (Earthworks) http://www.timesunion.com/opinion/article/Beware-impact-of-fracking-4324911.php?cmpid=twitter .
Even without proving a direct relationship, in other words, a particular chemical (which is secret) caused this person’s illness, we can attribute a person’s illness to the gas development nearby by following these three guidelines:
• Temporal relationship – was the development of the symptom (or exacerbation of pre-existing symptom) after the onset of gas extraction activities
• Plausible exposure – is there an identifiable exposure source in proximity to the individual experiencing symptoms
• Absence of a more likely explanation –  Symptoms were not attributed to gas extraction activities if an individual had an underlying medical condition that was as (or more) likely to have caused the symptom.
There are many such cases, and they fit the criteria of having been impacted by gas development nearby: a temporal relationship, plausible exposure, and absence of a more likely explanation.  Studies implicate air contamination as the likely cause of three-quarters of the illnesses. Breathing is mandatory, and, while a drinking water source might be replaced, air cannot.
Having spent time speaking with these impacted people, I am convinced that the health of many of them living near gas wells, processing plants and compressors is deteriorating and that it is a result of gas drilling activities.  These people were well before this industry moved in, and now they are not, and there is no other plausible reason for their illnesses.  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, I am afraid that this is the just beginning of a huge public health crisis.  I believe that some have irreversible neurological problems already.  I implore you not to create a generation of people who are industry’s lab rats with governmental complicity–young people who would otherwise be happy and thriving and productive members of society, and instead will be on disability and dependent on the welfare system.  They did not ask for this nor consent to experimentation.
REFERENCES:
HEALTH EFFECTS (general)
http://www.who.int/about/definition/en/print.html
http://baywood.metapress.com/media/e05d2179tjdjww5edyvm/contributions/6/6/1/4/661442p346j5387t.pdf
http://www.damascuscitizens.org/Teitelbaum-Report_R1.pdf  and  http://www.ccag.org.au/images/stories/pdfs/literature%20review%20witter%20et%20al%202008.pdf  and http://63.134.196.109/documents/10sep28_Otsego2000EPACommentsFINAL.pdf
http://www.psehealthyenergy.org/Impacts_of_Gas_Drilling_on_Human_and_Animal_Health
http://www2.gnb.ca/content/dam/gnb/Departments/h-s/pdf/en/HealthyEnvironments/Recommendations_ShaleGasDevelopment.pdf
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3237379/
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KOPLKXuiZmI&playnext=1&list=PL26E430AAECBFF78F&feature=results_main
AIR
McKenzie LM, et al, Human Health Risk Assessment of Air Emissions from Development of Unconventional Natural Gas Resources http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22444058
Colborn T, et al, An Exploratory Study of Air Quality near Natural Gas Operations
NOAA ozone study http://www.eenews.net/public/Landletter/2011/04/21/1
http://www.uphe.org/general-research/health-consequences-of-utahs-air-pollution
http://iopscience.iop.org/1748-9326/8/1/014017/pdf/1748-9326_8_1_014017.pdf
http://www.endocrinedisruption.com/files/HERA12-137NGAirQualityManuscriptforwebwithfigures.pdfand
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22916444and
http://www.edf.org/documents/9235_Barnett_Shale_Report.pdf  and
http://www.damascuscitizens.org/HEALTH-EPA_Comments_Eric_London_MD.pdf  and
http://www.eeb.cornell.edu/howarth/GHG%20update%20for%20web%20–%20Jan%202011%20(2).pdf
http://s3.documentcloud.org/documents/29077/new-epa-data-subpart-w-tsdf.pdf  and
http://www.star-telegram.com/2010/10/03/2516374/formaldehyde-from-gas-compressor.html
http://www.ars.usda.gov/Main/docs.htm?docid=12462
http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2007/ozone-1026.html
http://www.iom.edu/~/media/Files/Activity%20Files/Environment/EnvironmentalHealthRT/2012-Apr-30/Adgate.pdf
http://researchmatters.noaa.gov/news/Pages/utah.aspx
http://www.iom.edu/~/media/Files/Activity%20Files/Environment/EnvironmentalHealthRT/2012-Apr-30/Robinson.pdf
http://www.lung.org/assets/documents/publications/state-of-the-air/state-of-the-air-2011-report-embargoed.pdf
http://ccceh.hs.columbia.edu/pdf-papers/PereraCEBP2011.pdf
http://www.environment.ucla.edu/reportcard/article.asp?parentid=1700
http://www.epa.gov/airquality/oilandgas/pdfs/20120417finalrule.pdf
WATER
http://www.edf.org/documents/9235_Barnett_Shale_Report.pdf and
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/01/business/energy-environment/01gas.html?src=me&ref=business and
http://www.earthworksaction.org/NM_GW_Contamination.cfm and
http://www.vanityfair.com/business/features/2010/06/fracking-in-pennsylvania-201006 and
http://www.fractracker.org/2010/09/water-well-contamination-studies.html and http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/amall/incidents_where_hydraulic_frac.html
http://www.iom.edu/~/media/Files/Activity%20Files/Environment/EnvironmentalHealthRT/2012-Apr-30/Swackhamer.pdf
http://yosemite.epa.gov/opa/admpress.nsf/0/EF35BD26A80D6CE3852579600065C94E and
http://www.epa.gov/region8/superfund/wy/pavillion/EPA_ReportOnPavillion_Dec-8-2011.pdf
http://www.iom.edu/~/media/Files/Activity%20Files/Environment/EnvironmentalHealthRT/2012-Apr-30/Jackson.pdf
http://www.biology.duke.edu/jackson/pnas2011.html
Methane migration—2011 Duke study http://www.biology.duke.edu/jackson/pnas2011.html
Brine migration—-2012 Duke and CalStatePolytech http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2012/07/03/1121181109.full.pdf
Amy Mall—NRDC 2011-12 http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/amall/incidents_where_hydraulic_frac.html
Bamberger and Oswald—2012 New Solutions http://www.psehealthyenergy.org/Impacts_of_Gas_Drilling_on_Human_and_Animal_Health
CHEMICALS
Natural Gas Operations from a Public Health Perspective  Theo Colborn, Carol Kwiatkowski, Kim Schultz,
Human and Ecological Risk Assessment: An International Journal Vol. 17, Iss. 5, 2011
http://edrv.endojournals.org/content/early/2012/03/14/er.2011-1050.full.pdf#page=1&view=FitH
http://www.psehealthyenergy.org/Impacts_of_Gas_Drilling_on_Human_and_Animal_Health
http://www.dec.ny.gov/energy/58440.html  (see Ch 5 here)   and http://endocrinedisruption.com/files/NaturalGasManuscriptPDF09_13_10.pdf  and   http://democrats.energycommerce.house.gov/index.php?q=news/waxman-markey-and-degette-investigation-finds-continued-use-of-diesel-in-hydraulic-fracturing-f
http://endocrinedisruption.com/chemicals.multistate.php  and
http://63.134.196.109/documents/RiskAssessmentNaturalGasExtraction.pdf    and
http://archive.durangoherald.com/asp-bin/article_generation.asp?article_type=news&article_path=/news/08/news080717_2.htmand
http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/phs/phs.asp?id=345&tid=61and
http://www.endocrinedisruption.com/files/cP02591Colborn20021022coalbedmethane2-BEcommments.pdfand
http://catskillcitizens.org/FOIL_products/UNIFOAM_MSDS.pdf  and
http://www.who.int/ipcs/publications/cicad/cicad_10_revised.pdf
RADIOACTIVITY
http://www.epa.gov/osw/nonhaz/industrial/special/oil/oil-gas.pdffederal exemption
The International Atomic Energy Agency has recommendations regarding radioactivity at oil and gas mining sites http://www-pub.iaea.org/MTCD/publications/PDF/TCS-40_web.pdf.
http://www.grassrootsinfo.org/pdf/whitereport.pdfand
http://pubs.usgs.gov/fs/fs-0142-99/fs-0142-99.pdf   and http://s3.amazonaws.com/propublica/assets/natural_gas/nysdoh_marcellus_concerns_090721.pdf    and http://63.134.196.109/documents/10sep28_Otsego2000EPACommentsFINAL.pdf   and
http://www.rwma.com/Marcellus%20Shale%20Report%205-18-2010.pdf  and http://63.134.196.109/documents/10sep21_RadioactiveWastefromHorizontalHydrofracking.pdf   and http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=marcellus-shale-natural-gas-drilling-radioactive-wastewater   and http://www.nysacho.org/files/CEHD%20Gas%20Drilling%20Comments%20final%2012%2029%2009.pdf   and http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/27/us/27gas.html?_r=3&hp  and
http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2011/02/27/us/natural-gas-documents-1-intro.html?ref=us    http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=wastewater-sediment-natural-gas-mckeesport-sewage    and  http://63.134.196.109/documents/10sep21_RadioactiveWastefromHorizontalHydrofracking.pdf
http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=5499&page=R11
Radioactivity in the Environment, Volume 17, 2010
http://www.icrp.org/docs/Michael%20Cowie%20Developemetn%20of%20a%20NORM%20Management%20Strategy%20Oil%20and%20Gas%20.pdf
WORKER HEALTH
National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH),
http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docket/review/docket213/and http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docket/review/docket213/pdfs/OilGasExtractionDraftAug2010.pdf
http://www.bls.gov/opub/cwc/sh20110712ar01p1.htm
http://wellservicingmagazine.com/hours-service-regulation-revealedHOS regulation and “oilfield exemption”
http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5716a3.htmfatalities among gas field workers 2003-2006
http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/programs/oilgas/projects.htmlupdate on NIOSH research projects
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/15/us/for-oil-workers-deadliest-danger-is-driving.html?_r=2
http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docket/review/docket213/pdfs/OilGasExtractionDraftAug2010.pdf
http://www.southernstudies.org/2012/05/institute-index-frackings-dangers-for-workers.html
http://www.iom.edu/~/media/Files/Activity%20Files/Environment/EnvironmentalHealthRT/2012-Apr-30/Esswein.pdf
http://blogs.cdc.gov/niosh-science-blog/2012/05/silica-fracking/ NIOSH
NIOSH Field Effort to Assess Chemical Exposures in Oil and Gas Extraction Workers
NOISE
http://www.euro.who.int/__data/assets/pdf_file/0008/136466/e94888.pdf
http://www.citidep.pt/papers/articles/alvesper.htm    and
http://teeic.anl.gov/er/oilgas/impact/drilldev/index.cfm    and
http://shaleshock.org/2009/01/noise-and-health/  and
http://www.fastcompany.com/1744151/air-pollution-causes-europeans-to-lose-16-million-years-of-healthy-living-annually-study  and
COMMUNITY IMPACTS
http://www.damascuscitizensforsustainability.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/stateimpactpa-troy-community-hospital-report.pdf
http://www.sungazette.com/page/content.detail/id/576617/Housing-woes-worsen.html?nav=5011
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/02/us/drilling-down-fighting-over-oil-and-gas-well-leases.html?pagewanted=alland
http://www.earthworksaction.org/issues/detail/colorado_health_concerns
http://www.garfield-county.com/public-health/battlement-mesa-health-impact-assessment-ehms.aspx
http://www.iom.edu/~/media/Files/Activity%20Files/Environment/EnvironmentalHealthRT/2012-Apr-30/Witter.pdf   http://www.iom.edu/~/media/Files/Activity%20Files/Environment/EnvironmentalHealthRT/2012-Apr-30/Kelsey.pdf<http://forumonpublicpolicy.com/vol2011.no2/archivevol2011.no2/perry.pdfhttp://mediasite.cidde.pitt.edu/mediasite/SilverlightPlayer/Default.aspx?peid=689293c50f404f12b8c628b8f2285780http://ehp03.niehs.nih.gov/article/info:doi/10.1289/ehp.0900612  and
http://www.countyhealthrankings.org/new-york
http://envirn.org/pg/pages/view/1334/harmful-environmental-exposures-and-vulnerable-populations
CLIMATE CHANGE
http://www.psehealthyenergy.org/Venting_and_leaking_of_methane_from_shale_gas_development__response_to_Cathles_et_al_
http://www.psehealthyenergy.org/Methane_and_the_Greenhouse-Gas_Footprint_of_Natural_Gas_from_Shale_Formations
http://www.postcarbon.org/reports/PCI-Hughes-NETL-Cornell-Comparison.pdf
http://thinkprogress.org/romm/2012/02/08/421588/high-methane-emissions-measured-over-gas-field-offset-climate-benefits-of-naturalgasquot/
NYS AAP on a moratorium, see http://gdacc.wordpress.com/medical-professionals-information/    and
other medical organizations’ statements  Mt Sinai Children’s Environmental Health Center comments to the EPA   and
http://www.bassett.org/our-network/media-room/news/2011/bassett-statements-on-hydrofracking/http://www.epa.gov/region02/spmm/pdf/Marcellus_dSGEIS_Comment_Letter_plus_Enclosure.pdf
http://gdacc.wordpress.com/2010/12/10/new-york-state-medical-societies-call-for-moratorium
Video from The Endocrine Disruption Exchange http://www.endocrinedisruption.com/chemicals.video.php
Study commissioned by the NYC DEP  http://www.cwconline.org/news/final%20hazn%20sawyr%20report-on-drilling.pdf
HIA REFERENCES
http://www.iaia.org/
http://www.hiaconnect.edu.au/files/HIA_International_Best_Practice_Principles.pdf
Quigley, R., L. den Broeder, P. Furu, A. Bond, B. Cave and R. Bos 2006 Health Impact Assessment International Best Practice Principles. Special Publication  Series No. 5. Fargo, USA: International Association for Impact Assessment.
http://www.euro.who.int/__data/assets/pdf_file/0003/98283/E90794.pdf
http://www.healthimpactproject.org/resources#presentations_webinars
http://www.cdc.gov/healthyplaces/hia.htm
Health Impact Assessment: Integrating Health into the NEPA Process, January 2011  Author: Aaron Wernham, M.D., M.S. Presented to: Transportation Resources Board, January 2011
http://www.apha.org/NR/rdonlyres/171AF5CD-070B-4F7C-A0CD-0CA3A3FB93DC/0/HIABenefitHlth.pdf   Health in All Policies, from the APHA
http://www.ph.ucla.edu/hs/health-impact/
http://www.who.int/hia/en/
http://www.naccho.org/topics/environmental/landuseplanning/HIAresources.cfm
http://www.apho.org.uk/default.aspx?QN=P_HIA
http://www.dh.gov.uk/en/Publicationsandstatistics/Legislation/Healthassessment/DH_4093617
http://www.dh.gov.uk/prod_consum_dh/groups/dh_digitalassets/documents/digitalasset/dh_120110.pdf
Institute of Medicine Conference, The Health Impact Assessment of New Energy Sources: Shale Gas Extraction http://www.iom.edu/Activities/Environment/EnvironmentalHealthRT/2012-APR-30.aspx Please also see the accompanying videos
Legal Review Concerning the Use of Health Impact Assessments in Non-Health Sectors http://www.healthimpactproject.org/resources/body/Legal_Review_of_HIA_report.pdf
National Research Council of the National Academies of Science, Improving Health in the United States: The Role of Health Impact Assessment, National Academies Press, November 2011 http://www.nap.edu/chapterlist.php?record_id=13229&type=pdf_chapter&free=1
NAS brief review of HIA http://dels.nas.edu/resources/static-assets/materials-based-on-reports/reports-in-brief/Health-Impact-Assessment-Report-Brief-Final.pdf
http://www.blm.gov/ak/st/en/prog/planning/npra_general/ne_npra/northeast_npr-a_final.html
EIS/HIA
Wernham, A. Inupiat Health and Proposed Alaskan Oil Development: Results of the First Integrated HIA/EIS for Proposed Oil Development on Alaskas North Slope. EcoHealth 4:500-513 (2007).
Please see www.concernedhealthny.org and www.psehealthyenergy.org  for updated peer-reviewed articles, reports and testimonies from health professionals.


Shale Gas Exploration and Production: Overview

Reports

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Shale Gas Exploration and Production: Potential Health and Environmental Impacts

Air Pollution, Public Health, Radiation, Reports, Water Contamination

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Myths About Fracking Explained, #5: “Shale Gas Poses Minimal Risk to Public Health”

Public Testimony

by Sandra Steingraber, PhD
Distinguished Scholar in Residence
Department of Environmental Studies
Ithaca College, Ithaca, New York
ssteingraber@ithaca.edu 

prepared remarks for presentation (via Skype) at the public conference, Unfracked: Why Shale Gas Should Stay in the Ground, European Parliament, Brussels, 5 September 2013

recorded livestream: http://www.greens-efa.eu/de/unfracked-10219.html

Bonjour.  Guten Tag. Good morning from the Fingers Lakes region of New York State.

One thousand meters or so below the room where I am speaking lies a layer of shale bedrock that contains an enormous amount of methane. This gas is not contained within large underground balloons.  Instead, it is scattered throughout the shale as tiny bubbles—like spilled champagne locked inside of stone.

To extract these gas bubbles profitably would require smashing apart our bedrock using high-pressure blasts of water as a hammer.

The shale underneath my house is, so far, unsmashed, and we New Yorkers intend to keep it that way.  Our resolve and our political struggle, which you have heard about today from my U.S. colleague John Armstrong, are animated by many concerns.

One of them is the threat that shale gas extraction—and its associated infrastructure—poses to public health.

And, as an aside, let me first say how inspired we feel in the U.S. by the European anti-fracking movement.  I believe you saw, in John’s presentation, a photograph of bread loaves piled before the governor’s office in New York with a sign saying, “Farmers Against Hydrofracking.”  Those bread loaves were part of an action that was directly inspired by a YouTube video of a protest Bulgaria in which loaves of bread were marched through the streets. Likewise during a recent demonstration here in New York when President Obama visited, there was much conversation about the powerful protests going on at the same time across the Atlantic in Balcomb, England.

The emerging science suggests that the risks to public health from fracking are widespread and costly.  They are also not fixable by regulation or existing technology.  If underground sources of drinking water are contaminated, these risks extend to future generations. Fracking is inherently dangerous to public health.

My task today is to describe for you some of these threats and the evidence for them.

However, I’d first like to explain why I am here in New York rather than with you in Brussels.  And if I’m clever, my explanation will serve as a starting point for my remarks.

This summer, my otherwise healthy, thin husband—with good blood pressure and a kind heart—suffered from two strokes.  (Stroke in French, I believe, is “attaque cerebrale” and in German, ein Schlaganfall.)  Jeff is, happily, now recovering, but I need to remain by his side.  So, I thank my hosts, the EU Greens and the European Free Alliance, for making it possible for me to participate using Skype and thank all of you for your patience with this remote technology.

Jeff’s neurologists could not determine the cause of his stroke.  This is not rare.  Indeed, in 30 percent of stroke patients without a family history of stroke or unhealthy lifestyle habits associated with stroke, no underlying cause is ever found.

I know as a public health biologist that air pollution—particularly exposure to smog and traffic exhaust—is a known contributor to stroke risk. Smog and traffic exhaust—especially diesel exhaust–are also linked definitively to heart attack, lung cancer, bladder cancer, childhood asthma, cognitive decline among the elderly, and lowered birth weight among newborn babies.

When ground-level ozone—which is smog–and roadway exhaust increase, the rates of all those chronic diseases and disorders also invariably increase.  There is no doubt about that connection.

I also know as a public health biologist that drilling and fracking operations produce the kind of air pollution that is linked to all those problems that I just named.  So do the compressor stations required to push the gas through the pipelines.

And we also know that fracking-related air pollution can travel up to 200 miles, raising risks for public health far from the wells.

Jeff and I live only 45 miles from New York’s border with Pennsylvania where gas drilling is rampant.  Is it possible that fracking-related air pollution contributed to my husband’s stroke?  Well, yes, but I cannot not say so with any scientific certainty.  Stroke—like cancer, heart attack, and premature birth—lack what epidemiologists call “disease specificity,” which means that, because the disease can have many causes, we can rarely draw a causal connection between any one exposure and any one injured person.

The victims of air pollution—and there are 200,000 deaths from air pollution every year in the United States alone—are thus largely anonymous.

My point is this: the uncertainty of identifying the individual people harmed by fracking through toxic exposure does not mean that science is uncertain about the human health effects of the chemicals used and released by fracking.  Drilling and fracking operations and their infrastructure release to our common environment chemical contaminants that, for the most part, are very well described.

In addition to ozone and diesel exhaust:  Benzene. Arsenic. Radon. Diesel exhaust. Formaldehyde.  We know a lot about these contaminants and how they harm people.  The technology of  high-volume horizontal fracking may be new, but chemicals are old, and they include a lot of well-known villains.

For example, drilling and fracking makes smog.  Invariably.  We have good studies to show that.  Smog kills people.  Invariably. We have good studies to show that, too.  It is thus possible to connect the causal dots.

Another example: Drilling and fracking operations are loud. They produces industrial noise 24 hours a day for many months at a time at a decibel level that approximates jackhammers and helicopters.  We have good data to document that.  Continuous noise at that decibel level is linked to high blood pressure in adults and learning difficulties in children.  We have good data to document that, too.  In fact, the best data on the public health effects of noise pollution come from here in the EU.

In other words, to understand the public health impacts of fracking, we don’t need to enroll unconsenting people as subjects in an human experiment by unleashing drilling and fracking operations in their communities and then measuring the burden of disease 20 years hence. We can make very good predictions based on what we already know.

With that as my introduction, let me now briefly but more formally, mention some of public health threats that concern me most.  And here I’d like to say that I hope you can just sit back and listen.  I won’t be showing Powerpoint slides.  All of my remarks are drawn from studies and reports that have been compiled by Concerned Health Professionals of New York.  We are a group of doctors, nurses, and public health scientists who have created a clearinghouse of information on the health effects of fracking.  You can find all of our materials on the Concerned Health Professionals of New York website:  www.concernedhealthny.org

I want to return now to the shale itself and point out that all the gas-containing shale deposits around the world were once the floors of ancient oceans.  The bubbles of gas they contain represent the decomposed bodies of organisms that once lived in these seas:  sea lilies, squid, and plankton.  When these creatures died, they sank to the bottom and turn into gas.  These animals had no bones.  They are fossils that became invisible vapors rather than crunchy chunks of coal or oily ooze of petroleum.

In many places, these same sea floors also collected silt from eroded coastal mountain ranges, and this silt often included heavy metals such as mercury, which is known brain poison, and arsenic, which is known carcinogen, as well as radioactive substances, such as radium and uranium.

When drilling operations bore sideways, a kilometer or more, into these shale formations, they bring to the surface all of these toxic metals in the form of drill cuttings.  Radon gas, which is a radioactive gas, can also be released from these materials. This is the first public health menace I’d like to mention.  In the United States, drilling cuttings are commonly dumped in municipal landfills. I wonder if the directive in the European Union against the landfilling of heavy metals—which requires manufacturers to buy back end-of-life products that contain them—might be deployed in the fight against toxic fracking waste.

As for the fossilized gas bubbles themselves, they are more than just methane. They include other hydrocarbons, such as the known carcinogen benzene. Data from Colorado show us that volatile hydrocarbon gases are released from gas wells during the period of drilling, which can take many weeks and months to accomplish.  During this time, the well is not yet hooked up to a pipeline.  Each well is an open chimney that vents toxic gases into the air.  In some cases, carcinogenic benzene has been measured in ambient air at levels that are known to raise the risk for cancer at distances a kilometer or more from the wellhead.  In Pennsylvania, such fracking-related pollutants have been found at worrying levels in the air inside of people’s homes.

At other times during the life of a gas well, to control pressure or to prevent a catastrophic explosion, the gas is flared off.  This combustion creates other toxic byproducts, including formaldehyde, which is also a known carcinogen.  We already possess a lot of information about the public health effects of flaring operations and the public health effects of formaldehyde exposure.  Again, this is not an experiment we need to repeat with shale gas fracking.  We can make quantifiable predictions using models.

Meanwhile, down in the bedrock, the fractures created by the pressurized water must be propped open in order for the gas bubbles to be liberated.  Otherwise, once the hydraulic pressure is released, the cracks will close back up again.

In the United States, grains of silica sand are used for this purpose.  As the high-pressure water cracks the shale into pieces, it also blasts sand grains deep into the cracks to hold them open.  A grain of silica sand is round and structurally very strong and resistant to collapse even with a kilometer of rock and clay pressing down on it.

In the United States, the silica sand used for fracking is strip-mined along river valleys in Midwestern states.  The result is the devastation of farmland and the industrialization of rural communities along with the release of silica dust into air.  Crystalline silica, like asbestos, is a known lung carcinogen and is the sole cause of the progressive, disabling auto-immune disease called silicosis.

Recently, our federal government released warnings about the occupational health threats to workers in the gas fields exposed to silica dust at levels known to cause demonstrable risks for cancer and silicosis.  Even though we have good data on the impact of silica exposure on adult male workers, we have no data on the impact of silica exposure on children or pregnant women who live in areas undergoing industrial strip-mined for silica sand.  The default presumption should be that what causes cancer and disability among healthy adult workers cannot be good for four-year-old children, pregnant mothers, and elderly people with emphysema.

I am deliberately focusing here on the naturally occurring toxic materials that are released into the environment by fracking, rather than on the synthetic chemicals in the fracking fluid itself or on emissions of unburned methane from producing wells.  There is much talk in the United States about “green completion,”  “waterless fracking,” and the use of green chemistry in fracking fluids.  But even if fracking fluids could be made completely benign and safe (although they are not) and even if the methane leaks could be controlled, fracking inevitably releases into our common environment highly toxic materials that have been liberated from deep geological strata.

Digging a hole a kilometer deep and another kilometer sideways necessarily means unearthing from the ground and bringing to the surface, many thousands of radioactive materials, heavy metals, and toxic gases.  This can’t be regulated away.

I do want to say a few words about fracking fluid, however, and point out that it typically contains powerful biocides.  Biocides are all-purpose pesticides that are powerful poisons used to kill life forms.  Biocides are important ingredients in fracking fluid because they are used to kill subterranean organisms that live in the shale.

The gas-containing shale is not just a layer of inert rock.  It is a living ecosystem.  It a biosphere that extends into the dark heart of the planet.  The shale bedrock is home to ancient forms of life, including Archaea, fungus, and many forms of bacteria that form complex colonies.  Geologists now believe that by biomass—by weight—these deep life organisms that live far below Earth’s surface exceed the biomass of all the organisms that live on the sunlit surface.  If so, deep life organisms necessarily play an important role in the planet’s carbon cycle and, therefore, almost certainly, in climate stability.

Biocides in fracking fluid are needed to kill off these organisms because they grow inside the pipes and interfere with the flow of gas.  You can think of fracking as a form of massive underground pesticide spraying. We have no idea what the unintended consequences will be for us.

Finally, I wish to revisit a topic dealt with by Josh Fox with so much elegance and cinematography: the material known as cement.

Cement well casings form the only barrier between the many toxic chemicals that naturally occur in the shale—along with the many others that are ingredients of fracking fluid—and the drinking water aquifers that lie above.  Because the fractures in the shattered shale are held permanently open by grains of sand or other proppants, whatever toxic vapors the rock had held will for all eternity have underground pathways along which to travel.  The cement well casings prevent the gases from reaching the groundwater aquifers.  And they must do so forevermore.  But cement is not immortal.  With time, it cracks, shrinks, and crumbles.  Our best data show us that the failure rate of well casings increase with time, with more than half of all well casings leaking after three decades.

These findings raise important ethical questions of generational inequity. Groundwater, once contaminated, cannot be purified by any known technology. Are those profiting economically from fracking laying public health time bombs under the earth for future generations who will experience none of the temporary, pollution-generated prosperity that is promised by the shale gas revolution?

To conclude: the history of environmental public health shows us that some practices and technologies—lead paint, DDT, and asbestos, to name a few—are inherently dangerous and unmanageable.  No regulations could solve the problems so created. Instead, abolition was the answer.

Shale gas extraction via fracking shows signs of being an inherently dangerous, unmanageable practice.  Fracking can’t be tested in a laboratory.  Nor do we have another planet to try it out on.  Of course, new science is always needed to fill in the data gaps, but science is slow and, while the wheels of scientific proofmaking grind slowly on, people should not be placed in harm’s way.  Because the risks created by fracking include permanent, unfixable ones, because fracking and its infrastructure uses farmland, villages, and suburban communities as its factory floor, public health scientists have a moral responsibility to act on the science that we already possess and insist on precaution rather than cooperate with the creation of new sacrifice zones.

Again, the organization is Concerned Health Professionals of New York.  The website is www.concernedhealthny.org.

Merci.  Vielen Dank.  Thank you to both my audience and to my neighbor, Marilyn, who provided me from her garden these sunflowers that sit behind me.  Sunflowers are both a symbol of the European Greens and the promise of solar power, which has not, to my knowledge, ever contaminated anyone’s drinking water.


Unfracked Conference

Videos

Click here for more information about the Unfracked Conference.


Facts on Fracking: What healthcare providers need to know

Air Pollution, Public Health, Reports, Water Contamination

Click here to access this report.


Facts on Fracking: What You Need to Know

Air Pollution, Public Health, Reports, Water Contamination, Worker Health

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An Evaluation of Water Quality in Private Drinking Water Wells Near Natural Gas Extraction Sites in the Barnett Shale Formation

Peer Reviewed, Water Contamination

Abstract

Natural gas has become a leading source of alternative energy with the advent of techniques to economically extract gas reserves from deep shale formations. Here, we present an assessment of private well water quality in aquifers overlying the Barnett Shale formation of North Texas. We evaluated samples from 100 private drinking water wells using analytical chemistry techniques. Analyses revealed that arsenic, selenium, strontium and total dissolved solids (TDS) exceeded the Environmental Protection Agency’s Drinking Water Maximum Contaminant Limit (MCL) in some samples from private water wells located within 3 km of active natural gas wells. Lower levels of arsenic, selenium, strontium, and barium were detected at reference sites outside the Barnett Shale region as well as sites within the Barnett Shale region located more than 3 km from active natural gas wells. Methanol and ethanol were also detected in 29% of samples. Samples exceeding MCL levels were randomly distributed within areas of active natural gas extraction, and the spatial patterns in our data suggest that elevated constituent levels could be due to a variety of factors including mobilization of natural constituents, hydrogeochemical changes from lowering of the water table, or industrial accidents such as faulty gas well casings.

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Challenges of Unconventional Shale Gas Development: So What’s the Rush?

Peer Reviewed, Public Health

Abstract

The article discusses unconventional shale gas development (UGD) as of July 2013, focusing on U.S. natural gas production and the impact of UGD on energy utilization in America. Funding by the U.S. Department of Energy for shale gas extraction research and development is mentioned, along with water pollution and the direct health and environmental risks associated with toxicology and safety issues. Several American statutes are mentioned, including the Toxic Substances Control Act.

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Differing Opinions about Natural Gas Drilling in Two Adjacent Counties with Different Levels of Drilling Activity

Peer Reviewed, Public Health

Abstract

The pace of development of shale gas plays varies greatly among US states and globally. Through analysis of telephone survey responses, we explore support for natural gas drilling in residents of Washington County (WC), PA (n=502) vs. residents of Allegheny County (AC), PA (n=799). WC has had intense Marcellus Shale (MS) drilling activity, in comparison to adjacent AC, which has had little drilling activity. WC residents are marginally more supportive of MS drilling than are AC residents (p=0.0768). Residents of WC are more likely to perceive MS as an economic opportunity than are AC residents (p=0.0015); to be in a family that has signed a MS lease (p<0.0001); to follow the MS issue closely (p=0.0003); to get MS information from neighbors, friends, and relatives (p<0.0001); and are marginally less likely to perceive MS as an environmental threat (p=0.1090). WC leaseholders are significantly more supportive of MS drilling than WC non-leaseholders and AC non-leaseholders (p=0.0024). Mediation analyses show that county-based differences in support of MS drilling are due to WC residents seeing more of an economic opportunity in the MS and their greater likelihood of having a family-held lease.

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Lung Cancer in NYC Kitchens

Videos


Assessment and longitudinal analysis of health impacts and stressors perceived to result from unconventional shale gas development in the Marcellus Shale region

Peer Reviewed, Public Health

Abstract

Introduction: Concerns for health and social impacts have arisen as a result of Marcellus Shale unconventional natural gas development. Our goal was to document the self-reported health impacts and mental and physical health stressors perceived to result from Marcellus Shale development.
Methods: Two sets of interviews were conducted with a convenience sample of community members living proximal to Marcellus Shale development, session 1 March‐September 2010 (n = 33) and session 2 January‐April 2012 (n = 20). Symptoms of health impacts and sources of psychological stress were coded. Symptom and stressor counts were quantified for each interview. The counts for each participant were compared longitudinally.
Results: Participants attributed 59 unique health impacts and 13 stressors to Marcellus Shale development. Stress was the most frequently-reported symptom. Over time, perceived health impacts increased (P = 0·042), while stressors remained constant (P = 0·855).
Discussion: Exposure-based epidemiological studies are needed to address identified health impacts and those that may develop as unconventional natural gas extraction continues. Many of the stressors can be addressed immediately.

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Toxic & Dirty Secrets: The Truth About Fracking and Your Family’s Health

Air Pollution, Public Health, Reports, Water Contamination

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Increased stray gas abundance in a subset of drinking water wells near Marcellus shale gas extraction

Peer Reviewed, Water Contamination

Abstract

Horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing are transforming energy production, but their potential environmental effects remain controversial. We analyzed 141 drinking water wells across the Appalachian Plateaus physiographic province of northeastern Pennsylvania, examining natural gas concentrations and isotopic signatures with proximity to shale gas wells. Methane was detected in 82% of drinking water samples, with average concentrations six times higher for homes <1 km from natural gas wells (P = 0.0006). Ethane was 23 times higher in homes <1 km from gas wells (P = 0.0013); propane was detected in 10 water wells, all within approximately 1 km distance (P = 0.01). Of three factors previously proposed to influence gas concentrations in shallow groundwater (distances to gas wells, valley bottoms, and the Appalachian Structural Front, a proxy for tectonic deformation), distance to gas wells was highly significant for methane concentrations (P = 0.007; multiple regression), whereas distances to valley bottoms and the Appalachian Structural Front were not significant (P = 0.27 and P = 0.11, respectively). Distance to gas wells was also the most significant factor for Pearson and Spearman correlation analyses (P < 0.01). For ethane concentrations, distance to gas wells was the only statistically significant factor (P < 0.005). Isotopic signatures (δ13C-CH4, δ13C-C2H6, and δ2H-CH4), hydrocarbon ratios (methane to ethane and propane), and the ratio of the noble gas 4He to CH4 in groundwater were characteristic of a thermally postmature Marcellus-like source in some cases. Overall, our data suggest that some homeowners living <1 km from gas wells have drinking water contaminated with stray gases.

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Public Health Risks in Shale Gas Development

Public Health, Reports

John Adgate, Colorado School of Public Health (Download the Abstract or PPT.)

David Brown, Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project (Download the PPT.)