In the roughly six years I’ve been writing in this spot, one constant has been this” News of what the process of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, for oil and gas does to the health of the planet, and the people who live here, just keep getting worse and worse. In the beginning, public officials insisted the process was 100 percent safe and could not possibly pollute public water supplies. But as the years passed and scientific evidence mounted, it grew harder and harder to deny that the risks from fracking were real and not the imagination of panicked neighbors.
Radiation began to turn up in local rivers and streams. Some close neighbors of fracking rigs were able to light their tap water on fire with a match. Places that had once been stable bedrock, like Oklahoma, were suddenly rocked by earthquakes. Methane, a huge contributor to global warming, escaped from drilling sites in large quantities. And for residents of communities where fracking has taken root, the big issue was whether oil and gas drilling somehow polluted the water they drank and the air that they breathed.
The small town of Pavillion, Wyoming, became a battleground over this issue. In 2008, when the fracking boom was just getting underway, residents there complained of foul odors and awful tasting water; some people fell ill. Two years later, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found benzene, a major carcinogen, and other highly toxic chemicals in the tap water, and residents were ordered not to drink it. Despite the strong evidence, industry officials contested the findings, and it was just this year that the EPA finally confirmed that the water pollution included chemicals that were only used in the fracking process.
But that’s not even the scariest part. The newest study out of Pavillion offers a window into how this toxic soup of chemicals has found its way into the bloodstream of the citizens who live there. The findings are alarming, to say the least:
The report found that residents who live near the gas sites have a higher amount of the chemicals in their urine than the general population. Scientists focused on how oil and gas fields can pollute the air and how that pollution ends up in humans living nearby. That’s a point Wilma Subra, president of the Subra Company involved in the study, and other leaders in the study have been emphasizing.
“If you have contaminated air, you have no choice but to breathe it,” Subra, who has worked on environmental health research across the country, told ThinkProgress. “That’s why it is so important to help citizens understand the quality of the air they are breathing.”
John Fenton, a Pavillion resident and farmer, said in a release that his family “has experienced phantom odors, rashes, hair loss, respiratory conditions, neurological problems, epileptic seizures, cancer, and huge hits to how we think and reason.”
In a 2014 presentation, he said “we went from living on a farm to living on a refinery.” His farm is within 350 feet of a gas well, according to the presentation. He first saw health impacts in his mother-in-law, who lost her sense of smell and taste. Later, his wife experienced similar symptoms. He goes on to explain many women often have neuropathy, men experience chronic fatigue and ringing in the ears, and children have nosebleeds and even kidney problems.
The study looked at eight chemicals that belong to the family of volatile organic compounds, or VOCs. These VOCs are linked to a string of bad health outcomes: eye, nose, and throat irritation; headaches; lower cognitive function; loss of coordination and nausea; and damage to liver, kidney and central nervous system. The study found that one of the chemicals — an acid that is found in benzene — was in the urine of the Pavillion residents at a rate 10 times higher than the general population. The researchers also discovered an alarmingly high rate of another chemical linked to toulene, which like benzene is highly carcinogenic.
The lead scientist here, Subra, is based in Louisiana, and I have been fortunate to work with her on various environmental crises over the years; she is, quite simply, the best in the business. She analyzes the samples and crunches the numbers that the government and big business don’t want you to see. This is just one more, irrefutable layer of proof from the town of Pavillion that fracking is not safe for the people who live nearby. The only question now is, when will our policy makers pay attention?
Read more detail about the Pavillion health study from ThinkProgress: http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2016/06/16/3788812/chemicals-fracking-health-wyoming/
Learn more about the need for worldwide action on fossil fuels in my new book, Crude Justice: How I Fought Big Oil and Won, and What You Should Know About the New Environmental Attack on America: http://shop.benbellabooks.com/crude-justice
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