The Extensive Health Effects of Fracking Continue to be Studied

by S. Tom Bond on September 23, 2017


Health Effects of Fracking are of Major Concern to Residents & Medical Professionals

Essay by S. Tom Bond, Resident Farmer, Lewis County, WV

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo banned fracking in New York State in 2014, citing health risks. Many other states have been “spread eagle” for fracking. As time goes by it appears that Cuomo was right. This essay is based on research about what has been verified by peer-reviewed research.

Shortly after fracking came into existence people living near this new type of well raised a host of complaints such as 24 hour light, noise, with heavy, congested traffic on rural roads; strange odors in the air, tastes and sediment in well water, and significant health complaints.

You’d think, since it is a democracy, that would cause some caution and serious investigation. But complaints of individual citizens came up against the prospect of millions of dollars profit, and the political organization that kind of money can buy. Most of the complaints were overruled “for the common good,” in spite of global warming and the very marginal economic nature of the enterprise (fracked oil is marginally profitable and the natural gas is carried by the attendant liquids, which are a starting material for plastics, etc.). Health complaints, and the extensive use of toxic chemicals are a more significant complaint.

However the industry united behind the claim of ”anecdotal evidence only,” and the judges who tried early claims against the companies, doubtless were impressed by the financial claims of the industry and indifferent to the unsophisticated rural types who made the claims.

Scientific studies of the health related to fracking, on both workers and the normal rural residents, requires big money. Obviously, the companies would not finance anything that might inhibit their way of doing business, or add more cost. Government was not inclined to put up money for the needed research. And, state or federal law does not require research on the public health or impacts on neighborhoods around chemical and petrochemical plants, factory farms and other facilities.

Private foundations have heard the need, and slowly the research is getting done. One of the early published papers was done in 2010 by Theo Colborn and co-workers. They surveyed the chemicals used in fracking, some 632 compounds, of which 353 had Chemical Abstracts Service numbers, a unique identifier. They found, ”More than 75% of the chemicals could affect the skin, eyes, and other sensory organs, and the respiratory and gastrointestinal systems. Approximately 40–50% could affect the brain/nervous system, immune and cardiovascular systems, and the kidneys; 37% could affect the endocrine system; and 25% could cause cancer and mutations. These results indicate that many chemicals used during the fracturing and drilling stages of gas operations may have long-term health effects that are not immediately expressed.” Furthermore, “an example was provided of waste evaporation pit residuals that contained numerous chemicals on the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) and Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) lists of hazardous substances.”

The paper discusses the difficulty of developing an effective water quality monitoring program, since separate analysis would be necessary for many different compounds. They also recommend full disclosure of all chemicals and mixtures used in fracking. The abstract and paper can be accessed here.

The old saying, “Ignorance is bliss” still is the guide for regulation today, apparently, since no disclosure, even to regulatory agencies is required today.

In 2011 and article entitled “Blind Rush? Shale Gas Boom Proceeds Amid Human Health Questions” was published in the scientific journal Environmental Health Perspectives here.

It points out by 2011 most Americans hadn’t heard or read of fracking and consequently don’t know whether they support or are against it. Those who have heard about it were evenly divided then. Factors predicting point-of-view were as follows. Women, those holding egalitarian worldviews, those who read newspapers more than once a week, those more familiar with hydraulic fracturing, and those who associate the process with environmental impacts are more likely to oppose fracking.

In contrast, people more likely to support fracking tend to be older, hold a bachelor’s degree or higher, politically conservative, watch TV news more than once a week, and associate the process with positive economic or energy supply outcomes. The authors of the paper find a need for how communication is done, and energy policy.

The American Chemical Society, the world’s largest professional organization, published a special edition of it’s journal, Environmental Science and Technology in 2014 on “Understanding the Risks of Unconventional Shale Gas Development,” a special issue. One of the articles was “Potential Public Health Hazards, Exposures and Health Effects from Unconventional Natural Gas Development.” That article points out effects that can be at the well site, due to silica dust, hazardous chemicals, industrial accidents and ear-deafening sound. In the surrounding local area the problem is traffic, water quality, social disruption, air quality and water quality. Finally, the methane leakage and carbon dioxide from combustion affect the entire globe with climate disruptions.

The research article notes that no comprehensive study of the problems exists as of late 2014, but extensive research needs to be done. This can be read here.

Coming to the present. We present three recent findings. “The Independent” reports on a second paper in the journal Environmental Science & Technology which tested and studied sediments and groundwater downstream of a treatment plant in Pennsylvania that was designed to make the water used as part of the fracking process fit for release into the environment. They found “ “high loads of chloride, barium, strontium, radium and organic compounds” in the Conemaugh River Watershed“ down stream from a treatment plant. One spot had radium, a radioactive element, 200 times more concentrated than above it, just 14 percent below a level that would have to be treated as radioactive waster in some U. S. states.

They conclude, “Despite several other sources of contaminants such as coal bed methane, coal mine drainage, and flue gas desulfurization releases that can impact surface water quality, we document multiple lines of evidence that indicate the legacy of unconventional oil-and-gas wastewater disposal has impacted stream sediments and porewater [groundwater] on a watershed-scale.”

Another article from 2017 has the title “There’s a World Going on Underground — Infant Mortality and Fracking in Pennsylvania” which can be downloaded here.

It is an epidemiological study by Christopher Busby and Joseph Mangano that examines early infant deaths 0-28 days before and after the drilling of fracking wells, using official data from the US Center for Disease Control to compare the immediate post-fracking four year period 2007-2010 with the pre-fracking four-year period 2003-2006. The objective is given as “To investigate association between early (0-28 days) infant mortality by county in Pennsylvania and fracking.”

The results were, “Whilst early infant deaths decreased by 2.4% in the State over the period, in the 82,558 births in the 10 fracked counties there was a significant increase in mortality (238 vs 193; RR = 1.29; 95% CI 1.05, 1.55; p = 0.011). For the five north east fracked counties Bradford, Susquehanna, Lycoming, Wyoming and Tioga the combined early infant mortality increased from 34 deaths to 60 (RR 1.66; 1.05, 2.51; p = 0.014), whereas in the south western 5 counties Washington, Westmoreland, Fayette, Butler and Greene the increase was modest, 157 to 178 (RR 1.18; 0.95, 1.46; p = 0.13). Increased risk was associated with exposure to groundwater, expressed as the county ratio of water wells divided by the number of births.

And the conclusion: “Fracking appears to be associated with early infant mortality in populations living in counties where the process is carried out. There is some evidence that the effect is associated with private water well density and/or environmental law violations.” Pretty damning stuff! They also conclude, “The results therefore seem to support the suggestion that the vector for the effect is exposure to drinking water from private wells. This is a mechanistically plausible explanation. However the findings do not prove such a suggestion. We may examine other possible explanations for possible health effects which have been advanced.”

Another good article in the general press that reports on research on toxicity of fracking, and oil wells in general, is here. The title is “More than 17 million Americans are exposed to toxic fumes that could give you cancer, heart disease, dementia, or cause birth defects.”

The follow-on reads:
· >> Five percent of the US population lives a mile or less away from an oil or gas well
· >> These wells contaminate the air, water and soil around the exposed area
· >> Close to half of West Virginia’s population lives near an active fracking site
· >> There’s a need for protective regulations and policies to protect people living by these sites

The contamination from fracking will double and last an indefinite longtime, with varying length in different places. Will fracking companies be held at fault? Wait and see. Since individual wells are frequently drilled by Limited Liability Companies, they can go broke individually, and save the parent companies. Will the government respond? Only when big money is taken out of politics. So the answer becomes “When will big money no longer be allowed to subvert government?

Research is now coming through, but the psychopathic personalities may not respond to the facts. We must work, hope and pray for non-traditional energy to come as fast as possible. Its lower price will drive out the toxic traditional energy that is burning hydrocarbons.

>>> Tom Bond holds a PhD in physical chemistry and taught chemistry at the high school and college level. He has participated in activities of the Guardians of the West Fork and the Upper Monongahela Area Watershed Compact.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Joe Perebzak September 24, 2017 at 8:34 am

Tom, I agree with you on how lives are being destroy by energy companies.

Your state has more drilling and gas development than we have in eastern Ohio. We are catching up know, and living here for 37 years we our planing on moving. I raised beef cattle for 30 years and gave it up because of traffic, it is dangerous to be on the roads, we lost our rural country enjoyment.

They built a 9 engine compressor station 3/4 mile from us and neighbors. And, the noise is terrible.

How sad it has become to know we our destroying land that was a joy to be on.

Joe Perebzak, Noble County, Ohio


Geo. Neall September 26, 2017 at 10:33 am

Thank you for this Article on Fracking for Oil & Gas ……

1. This graphic on quantities of impacts probably does not include the millions of tons of propant (silica sand) that is mined, the adverse effects silica dust have on people and the environment and the energy and pollution that result from silica sand mining and transportation.

2. The book “The Real Cost of Fracking: How America’s Shale Gas Boom Is Threatening Our Families, Pets, and Food” details many of these health aspects on people and animals.

3. When corporations say something is “for the common good”, what they really mean is that it’s good for their profit and their shareholders.

4. I consider myself to be a conservative. I believe we should conserve (take care of) our natural resources, our commons (air, land and water) and people. The commons do not belong to corporations and the rich to do with as they wish. Yet that’s how the system works under “law and economics”.

5. If you’re not familiar with Zacariah Hildenbrand, do a Google search on him. He has authored a number of papers with significant data that implicates fracking for the hazard that it is.

6. There are a number of problems with regulations. Regulations legitimize the pollution of our air, water and soil when done at “acceptable levels”. It’s like someone saying “I need to take your arm, but the law will only let me take your hand.”

7. “Law and economics” will dictate what happens, as it is doing now. “In simple terms, a legal situation is said to be efficient if a right is given to the party who would be willing to pay the most for it.” There are well over 500,000 abandoned hard rock, coal mines, and oil & gas wells in the U.S. Most of these are polluting our environment and the companies that reaped the profits from these resources are long gone. Clean-up costs will have to be borne by taxpayers. The burden (for both clean-up and health care costs) will fall most heavily on low to middle income people. New proposed “mega-mines” such as the Pebble Mine and Transboundary Mines represent exponentially greater risks. David M. Chambers and Lindsay Newland Bowker eloquently address this issue in their internet messages and published papers.

George Neall, Mathias, WV


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