Saturday, October 6, 2012

How Fracking Is a Danger to Your Health

Amid controversy, New York will embark on a health impacts study, but residents living in the gaslands are already speaking out about their experiences.
The ethics of medicine are guided by the Hippocratic Oath which commits medical professionals to the principle of health care based on,Primum non nocere - -First do no harm . Health professionals are speaking out on behalf of the public health of their patients as hydraulic fracturing, otherwise known as fracking is introduced into their communities.
Fifty years ago this month Rachel Carson wrote Silent Spring a book that warned of the devastating impacts of pesticides and pollutants on human health. That seminal book led to the formation of the EPA and catalyzed a ban on DDT. Decades after the publication of Carson’s book the alarm has escalated with fracking, a technology that is forging a global gas initiative of extreme extraction. Many of the potential human rights injustices are being ignored by governing agencies, as extreme fossil fuel is being fast tracked locally and internationally.
Environmental scientist and biologist Sandra Steingraber (and founder of New Yorkers Against Fracking) referred to as a contemporary Carson asks this,“Is fracking going to kill more New Yorkers than it employs?” She continues to be outspoken about the human rights issue of the “crime of contamination” as she shares her own story of being a cancer survivor struck with bladder cancer at the age of 20 in her environmentally-polluted town in Illinois where she grew up.
Her story is resonating across New York where it was recently announced that Governor Cuomo will not be making an imminent decision about whether to begin high-volume horizontal fracking in the Southern Tier of New York State, but instead has ordered a health study to be completed. As Mary Esch reported for the AP:
New York's health commissioner and ‘qualified outside experts’ will review the health impacts of shale gas drilling before a moratorium on the ‘fracking’ extraction process is lifted, Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens said Thursday.
Martens said he has rejected calls from health and environmental groups for a health impact analysis by a university school of public health or other independent group, saying such a review is the job of government. Martens said he's asked Health Commissioner Nirav Shah to assess DEC's own health impact analysis.
Although community groups worry that the study won’t be conducted by an outside, independent body, many are relieved that the multitude of health risks associated with the process of fracking has now become central in the NY debate of how to proceed.
Pressure groups are concerned though about connections between the government and industry. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) sued the Cuomo administration for documents that would show “how the state has drafted its plan to permit high volume hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling for shale gas.” In the EWG press release they state, “…the Cuomo administration failed to honor EWG’s request under the state’s Freedom of Information Law for full disclosure of public records showing communications between the governor and six other senior officials and about two-dozen representatives of the oil and natural gas industry.”
While New Yorkers wait for the study, the process of shale gas development is already impacting people, whether by exploration, production, distribution and storage to name only a few of the aspects of this full-scale industrial activity. When one reads the reports, the testimonials, meets people suffering and sees the statistics on the chemicals it becomes clear that the only ethical choice and one that supports social justice is to begin an independent Health Impact Assessment, an HIA that addresses the cumulative health impacts.
Jill Wiener representing the 10,000 member volunteer citizens group, Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy  said, “New Yorkers are rightly concerned about the serious health impacts that would accompany the fracking industry's march through the Marcellus shale.  It's hard to have confidence in a health study that will be overseen by the Cuomo Administration and the DEC considering the DEC has produced an environmental impact statement that ignores peer reviewed science in favor of mis-information obtained from industry websites. Is the Administration really concerned with the health impacts of fracking NY or with covering their 'legal obligations' so fracking can commence?”
And the health impacts could be severe. Dr. Sheila Bushkin has been an active member of the Medical Society of the State of New York (MSSNY) for 14 years, in addition to being the of Director of the CME Program Committee of Physicians, Scientists and Engineers for Healthy Energy (PSE) and she shared a Table of 12 known chemicals associated with fracking that have dangerous impacts on health. These chemicals include, arsenic, benzene, lead and phenol with symptoms including Leukemia and lymphoma, renal failure, pulmonary damage and the list goes on illuminating the seriousness of the threats to public health.
Nadia Steinzor, the Marcellus regional organizer for Earthworks Oil & Gas Accountability Project, an organization that is working on a health survey study now in Pennsylvania addressed the risks of the entire process of gas development. Steinzor says, “Most people are getting sick from facilities which include wells but is not exclusive to wells. There are compressor stations and compoundment pits and some of the earliest cases we’ve seen of health impacts out west were from very shallow vertical drilling. So health threats are not exclusive to horizontal drilling. It is a question of scale and deep shale drilling is an extremely large industrial process increasing the health risks. It’s what drilling used to be on steroids. The oil and gas industry has reigned supreme in our politics for a really long time and 90% of oil and gas wells are fracked today.”
The Pennsylvania Alliance for Clean Water and Air has a growing “ List of the Harmed ” as case studies are being compiled about the illnesses people are suffering that they feel are connected to shale gas development.
The list of people who’ve been affected by fracking is long and growing – here are some of them who’ve been brave enough to speak out:
On May 1, 2011 Charles Edward Bevins III, 23 was killed on a drilling site in Smyrna, New York. I spoke with his mother, Nancy Bevins and his sister Charlotte Bevins who shared the story of his death. When we met they were holding signs that said, “A life lost in the rush to drill” and there was a photograph of him holding his infant son and his daughter.
Nancy Bevins: We want to show that this is more than the water and the air; this is affecting people’s lives.
Charlotte Bevins: We’re from West Virginia and he was working for a small drilling company contracted by Norse Energy and they were working up in New York. The freeze months had just been lifted by the company, even though the ground was still in very bad condition. But they were pushed to move forward and even asked for safety equipment, which was denied because they were told it wasn’t in the budget. As a result my brother’s life…
Nancy Bevins: He was pinned between a forklift and a building because the forklift fell off the mat and into the soft ruts of deep mud. The man driving the forklift didn’t even have an operator’s license or training. Read More


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