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Thursday, August 14, 2014

Chemists, health experts weigh in on unconventional natgas drilling

Chemists have raised red flags on fracking chemicals, and a group of environmental health researchers has issued critically important recommendations on efforts to ensure the safety of communities near natural gas drilling operations, in two new studies.

Characterizing compounds used in hydraulic fracturing: A necessary step for understanding environmental impacts, was unveiled yesterday at a meeting of the American Chemical Society.  It was prepared by team at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and University of the Pacific, and finds that out of nearly 200 chemical compounds commonly used in hydraulic fracturing, there's very little known about the potential health risks of about one-third of them - and eight are toxic to mammals. 

It also exposes the spin behind industry claims about many fracking compounds being food-additives, which doesn't negate the need for treatment of drilling wastewater.

Meanwhile, Environmental Health Research Recommendations from the Inter-Environmental Health Sciences Core Center Working Group on Unconventional Natural Gas Drilling Operations has been published in Environmental Health Perspectives. The study makes these suggestions, according to a University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine news release: 
  • Baseline ground water quality data should be taken before drilling begins and be monitored over the lifetime and abandonment of the gas-producing well.
  • Ambient and occupational air quality should be measured at active drilling sites and be compared with baseline measurements in adjacent areas without drilling operations.
  • An environmental epidemiological study should be performed to determine whether an association exists between health outcomes data and water quality in private drinking wells in communities with and without hydraulic fracturing.
  • An environmental epidemiological study should be performed to determine whether air pollution associated with [unconventional natural gas drilling operations] increases the incidence of respiratory illness and cardiovascular disease.
  • Community-based participatory research principles should be embraced in designing and conducting studies on environmental and health impacts of [unconventional natural gas drilling operations] so that a range of community perspectives are addressed. All stakeholders (individual/community/industry/advocacy groups/decision makers) should be engaged early to foster multi-directional communication and accountability.
The issues of chemical use in fracking and public health are inextricably linked.  The data gaps on fracking chemicals and their use need to be filled - and the subject must be much more tightly regulated.  The recommendations by health experts must be embraced – and funded – by policymakers.

And the business case to squeeze the water and chemicals out of the process altogether must be pressed.

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