Fracking’s most horrifying health risks

New York State's Department of Health is finally assessing the dangers -- but is there time to address them?

Topics: AlterNet, fracking, New York, Andrew Cuomo, Radon, Smog, Global Warming,

Fracking's most horrifying health risks (Credit: AP/Ed Andrieski)
This article originally appeared on AlterNet.

AlterNet The good news is that a public health department— New York State’s Department of Health (DOH)— is finally undertaking an assessment of fracking’s likely health risks. The bad news is that it’s questionable whether it will allow adequate time to do a credible and complete job. So says a new scientific watchdog group launched to assure that science, rather than expediency prevails.

Up until now government has relied on the gas industry’s blanket assurances of safety. The industry routinely tries to conflate the safety of vertical gas drilling (in use for a over a century) with horizontal fracking (in use for a little over a decade), a method which deploys a potent arsenal of chemicals so hazardous they defy known waste treatment methods.

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, the new group, Concerned Health Professionals of New York, represents hundreds of health professionals. (Others are welcome to join at their Web site.) Their goal is assuring that the Health Impact Assessment currently requested by New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo, is comprehensive, complete and conducted transparently. And to help that process, they have compiled health research and reports on their Web site to make sure that there are no omissions.

Fracking’s Four Biggest Biophysical Risks

There are five areas of concern, detailed in the research the doctors have collated, about the biophysical risks.

1. Radioactive wastewater

The higher levels of radioactive materials, released through drilling from Marcellus shale, exceed EPA’s maximum contaminant safety levels by 1,000-fold. Due to infrequent testing, it’s unlikely that radioactivity in public water would be detected prior to mass consumption, with exposure resulting in “anemia, cataracts, cancer, and increased mortality,” according to a CDC toxicological profiles report.

2. Radon



With radon exposure, the second leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S., the radon present in the shale will readily mix with the gas and travel with it via pipeline into the homes and businesses of its end users.

3. Smog

Exhaust from trucks and industrial equipment increases smog in both rural locations and travels downstate to impair air quality in regional urban environments.

4. Chemical contamination of drinking water

Over time, most well casings fail. When fracking fluids seep from them to connect with underground fissures, previously abandoned wells, and natural faults and fractures, the contaminants and methane can readily migration over long distances into underground water ways and fresh drinking water sources.

Five Main Systemic Obstacles to Protecting Health From Fracking

In addition to the biophysical vectors, is the overarching context for assessing, preventing or treating the resulting diseases. To make an accurate assessment, it’s necessary to consider:

1. The long latency of many illnesses

A higher incidence of asthma, cancer, heart disease and the effects of endocrine disruption on developing fetuses and children, due to contaminant exposure, only become evident over time. To prevent disease rather than incur its high human and economic costs, it’s best to intervene prior to exposure, rather than act in hindsight.

2. The lack of medical know-how

Conventional medicine does not recognize, no less treat, symptoms and illnesses resulting from increasing toxic chemicals exposures. Treatment of cancer and radiation-related conditions is a medical specialty.

3. The conflicts of interests affecting scientific findings

According to studies cited in a 2012 meeting presentation before the NY DEC, industry-funded studies can result in findings that “benefit sponsors, (are based on) poor study design, and (withhold) negative data from publication.”

4. The lack of accurate health data gathering

“A pall of ignorance hangs over fracking,” says biologist Sandra Steingraber. “Emissions data, monitoring data, exposure data–these are the things you need in order to judge health effects, and where are they?”

They are largely absent due to the state governments which, like Pennsylvania, welcome fracking, but often fail to ascertain what happens to public health afterward. For example, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP) neither adequately monitors nor collects health data. According to many PA citizen groups, it is singularly unresponsive to citizen’s reports, which are neither noted nor investigated until they have been personally reviewed by the governor, who understandably is too busy to get to them.

When local water supplies become contaminated in the aftermath of fracking, many citizens are forced to sign non-disclosure agreements in order to receive trucked-in water from the gas companies. Finally, as health problems in PA communities have emerged, the PA legislature attempted (so far unsuccessfully) to instate Act 13, an ALEC model bill that actually prohibits physicians from disclosing to patients and communities when fracking chemicals appear in people’s bloodstreams.

Unless overcome, ultimately, all of the above could result in a higher incidence of disease.

5. Increased health care costs

Increase costs can be projected for New York, based on increased costs incurred in other states. According to the same presentation on the Health Professionals Web site these include:

Costs related to acute effects from hydrofracking operations include doctor visits, laboratory tests, medications, emergency room visits and hospitalization due to acute medical disorders,acute exacerbations of existing chronic diseases (asthma, chronic obstructive lung disease (COPD), congestive heart disease, exposure to radioactive materials, ingestion of contaminated water, inhalation of contaminated air, traffic accidents involving heavy duty trucks,  and trauma from on-site accidents.

Where Does the NY State Health Review Stand?

The overriding socio-political context of “if I don’t look for it, it’s not there” makes the NY DOH Health Impact Assessment (HIA) an important milestone not only for New York but for the nation as a whole. Staffed with bona fide health experts in the last two weeks, the NY HIA is the first systemic look at across-the-board health effects to be undertaken by any governmental body at the federal state or local level.

But unfortunately, Governor Cuomo’s recent decision to extend the current proposed guidelines (called the SGEIS) for 90 days and invite public comment soon – before the health review is complete—undermines the entire process, experts say.

“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 David O. Carpenter. “It’s ridiculous.”

“Issuing (the guidelines) prematurely undermines the reviews altogether,” agrees attorney Kate Sinding of the Natural Resources Defense Council. According to Sinding, “Delivering a set of unfinished revised rules – ones that don’t reflect the results of the ongoing health and environmental reviews” means that the rules won’t contain any way to address any health risks identified by the health expert reviewers.

Instead, Sinding urges that the governor “take the time necessary to get this right. Rushing ahead with fracking now – with health and environmental reviews still pending – would be a foolish and irresponsible move.”

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>