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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Study finds evidence of harm to animals from exposure to fracking wastewater; more study needed

A study from the Cornell University School of Veterinary Medicine has reported cases of illness, death and reproductive issues in farm animals and domestic pets that were exposed directly - through ingestion, respiration or skin contact - to the wastewater produced by fracking, or to groundwater or well water contaminated by produced water – brine-laden wastewater that comes out of the well after production begins.

The study, published in New Solutions: A Journal of Environmental and Occupational Health Policyreportedly examined the claims of animal owners seeking answers to the death or ailments of animals in six states: New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania Louisians, Colorado and Texas and found 24 cases where animals were “likely” affected by exposure to fracking operations.

The study said that making a direct link between animal harm and exposure to fracking wastewater is not possible, citing inadequate data stemming from the limited disclosure of fracking chemicals and non-disclosure agreements in lawsuits that seal testimony and evidence when they are settled. The study said that the lack of credible and comprehensive data and information is a major impediment to a robust analysis of the possible impacts of hydraulic fracturing.

The study makes several recommendations to provide better assessments of potential health impacts of fracking:

·      prohibiting nondisclosure agreements “when public health is at stake;”
·      increasing food safety testing and research;
·      improving the monitoring of routes of exposure, including in water, soil and air; and
·      fully testing the air, water, soil and animals prior to drilling and at regular intervals after drilling is completed, and disclosing fully the chemicals used when hydrofracking.

The study, at minimum, seems to me to be an argument for the elimination of open wastewater pits and a requirement to use closed-loop, closed-container fluid handling systems in fracking operations, which minimize - but not eliminate - the potential for contamination. Such systems are in use by some drilling companies, particularly those that recycle drilling wastewater.
   
Clearly, more and better research is needed to fully assess the water-related risks associated with hydraulic fracturing and to develop sound policies, practices, and regulations to minimize them.

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