Science Lags as Real Health Problems Emerge Near Gas Fields in Six States

by Duane Nichols on September 25, 2011

Gas Mask Needed for Farm Chores (ProPublica)

Since 2008, ProPublica has reported on hundreds of cases of water contamination in more than six states where drilling and fracking are taking place as well as the difficulties of handling the vast quantities of waste the drilling processes produce. In July, when the EPA proposed new emissions rules for the drilling industry, it warned that without them there could be an unacceptably high risk of cancer for people living close to major facilities. In August, a national association of childrens’ doctors published a fact sheet detailing concerns about fracking and warning that children are more susceptible to chemical exposure. The group called for more epidemiological research and disclosure of chemicals used in drilling.

Last spring, the EPA doubled its estimates of methane gas leaked from drilling equipment. Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection has received 1,306 drilling-related complaints since 2009—45 percent of which alleged water pollution—but officials acknowledged they couldn’t separate out how many involved health issues. Pennsylvania’s secretary of health has urged the creation of a registry to track health complaints in the state’s drilling areas—at an annual cost of about $2 million—but so far, the governor has not acted upon the recommendation.

The US EPA is conducting a life-cycle study in Washington County (PA) to get a comprehensive overview on environmental and health effects, with a report due in 2014. Numerous cases in Colorado, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and other states are in medical treatment or already involve legal court cases.  Until systematic and comprehensive monitoring comes into practice, until data are compiled and maintained in open and accessible databases, and until monies are provided by the industry and the governmental agencies, the uncertainties and risks will continue to multiply based upon the work of ProPublica, the US EPA and the affected public citizens. It is no surprise that many have called for a moratorium on fracking until the impacts are known and understood, as in New York State and Morgantown, WV, for example.

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