Southwestern Pennsylvania Definitely is “Fractured” Among Other Places

by admin on March 2, 2021

Mothers are increasingly concerned about how fracking affects children

Fractured: Harmful chemicals and unknowns haunt Pennsylvanians surrounded by fracking

From a Series by Kristina Marusic, Reporter, EHN, March 1, 2021

This is part 1 of our 4-part series, “Fractured,” an investigation of fracking chemicals in the air, water, and people of western Pennsylvania. We tested families in fracking country for harmful chemicals and revealed unexplained exposures, sick children, and a family’s “dream life” upended.

WASHINGTON COUNTY, Pa.—In the summer of 2019, 13-year-old Gunnar Bjornson spent most days banging on his drums, playing video games, antagonizing his siblings, wandering outdoors, and scrounging for junk food in his home’s mostly healthy kitchen.

Gunnar is tan and blond with bright blue eyes and all the charisma required to survive being the younger of two middle children in a big family. He’s the household entertainer, constantly cracking jokes and falling into contagious giggling fits.

Gunnar lives with his mom, dad, older brothers and younger sister about 35 miles south of Pittsburgh in the aptly-named community of Scenery Hill, where narrow country roads wind through shady woods that open up onto hilltop vistas of rolling fields. The hills are peppered with farmhouses, fruit orchards, and fields of corn and squash. The roadsides are punctuated by little white churches, farm stands, and dirt driveways marked with hand-painted signs like “The Jones’s” and “Hidden Family Farm.”

Scenery Hill is in Washington County, the most heavily fracked county in Pennsylvania, with about 1,584 wells in its 861 square miles, so the idyllic country roads are also flanked with signs directing oil and gas well traffic: “No well traffic beyond this point,” “Staging area —->,” “Truck traffic: No engine breaks,” and ads that read, “We buy mineral rights!”

August 19, 2019, was a typical day for Gunnar—he played drums, took the dog outside, and argued and joked with his siblings. But unbeknownst to him and his family, Gunnar had a number of harmful chemicals coursing through his body.

A urine sample taken from Gunnar that day contained 11 harmful industrial chemicals, including benzene, toluene, naphthalene, and lesser-known chemicals linked to a range of health effects including respiratory and gastrointestinal problems, skin and eye irritation, organ damage, reproductive harm, and increased cancer risk.

These chemicals are found in things like gasoline, pesticides, industrial solvents and glues, varnishes, paints, car exhaust, industrial emissions, and tobacco smoke. They’re also commonly detected in air emissions from fracking wells.

Fracking, another name for hydraulic fracturing, is the process of extracting oil and gas from the Earth by drilling deep wells and injecting liquid at high pressure. Over the last decade, fracking has transformed the U.S. energy industry—total crude oil production more than doubled from 2010 to 2020, and natural gas, once in short supply, is now so over-abundant it’s exported overseas. But in that same time period, concerns about the health effects of fracking have escalated.

In Texas, researchers found that babies born near frequent flaring—the burning off of excess natural gas from fracking wells—are 50 percent more likely to be premature. In Colorado, the state Department of Health found that people living near fracking sites face elevated risk of nosebleeds, headaches, breathing trouble, and dizziness. In Pennsylvania, researchers found that people living near fracking face increased rates of infant mortality, depression, and hospitalizations for skin and urinary issues.

Studies of fracking communities throughout the country have found that living near fracking wells increases the risk of premature births, high-risk pregnancies, asthma, migraines, fatigue, nasal and sinus symptoms, skin disorders and heart failure; and laboratory studies have linked chemicals used in fracking fluid to endocrine disruption—which can cause hormone imbalance, reproductive harm, early puberty, brain and behavior problems, improper immune function, and cancer.

“We have enough evidence at this point that these health impacts should be of serious concern to policymakers interested in protecting public health,” Irena Gorski Steiner, an environmental epidemiology doctoral candidate at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told Environmental Health News (EHN).

EHN has reported on this increasing evidence of fracking’s impacts on human health for years. But we saw a gap in the science—almost no one was checking to see if harmful fracking chemicals were actually in the bodies of people living near wells. In 2019, EHN collected urine samples, along with air and water samples, from five families in southwestern Pennsylvania, including the Bower-Bjornsons, and had them analyzed for chemicals associated with fracking.


“Fractured” …… Watch a webinar with reporter Kristina Marusic about reporting by the Environmental Health Network

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Sharon Furlong March 19, 2021 at 12:17 am

Please note these objections to shale industry’s fracking response

By Sharon Furlong | Erie Times-News, March 18, 2021

The folks at the Marcellus Shale Coalition, who wrote in on March 12, should please note the following:

The Physicians for Social Responsibility has published a compendium, now in its sixth edition, that lists over 300 independent health and academic studies, the vast majority of which clearly report public health dangers associated with fracking.

The jobs this industry said it was going to create when it was lobbying for state support — something like a quarter-million jobs — in actuality, never topped 26,000.

Land and house values have plummeted in areas where there is fracking.

In 2015, Penn Star found fracking fluids in groundwater: and the EPA found it in 2016.

Air pollution near natural gas facilities was found to be probably killing people in one report in June of 2020:, and includes actual explosions:

And finally, much of Pennsylvania’s vaunted “clean energy” gas is slated for export overseas, for plastic production.

The Marcellus Shale Coalition should ask itself who is really “creating false choices”.

>>> Sharon Furlong is spokeswoman for Bucks Environmental Action in Bucks County.


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