Potential Public Health Hazards, Exposures and Health Effects from Unconventional Natural Gas Development, authored by John L. Adgate,*,† Bernard D. Goldstein,‡ and Lisa M. McKenzie†, provides a detailed review of the range of potential risks to public health and evaluates the state of the evidence. Up to date, extensive overview.
ABSTRACT: The rapid increase in unconventional natural gas (UNG) development in the United States during the past decade has brought wells and related infrastructure closer to population centers. This review evaluates risks to public health from chemical and nonchemical stressors associated with UNG, describes likely exposure pathways and potential health effects, and identifies major uncertainties to address with future research.
The American Public Health Association (APHA) policy document, The Environmental and Occupational Health Impacts of High-Volume Hydraulic Fracturing of Unconventional Gas Reserves, examines the “major risks posed by HVHF to public health and the environment, including groundwater and surface water contamination, climate change, air pollution, and worker health.” The policy document considers “the entire process surrounding HVHF, including site preparation, drilling and casing, well completion, production, transportation, storage and disposal of wastewater and chemicals, and site remediation.”
The policy statement provides a detailed overview of identified problems in 10 major areas as well as recommendations for how to approach the issue as well as recommended action steps.
The 10 major areas examined in the statement are:
1. Groundwater, 2. Surface water pollution, 3. Wastewater treatment, 4. Water resources, 5. Air pollution, 6. Noise and light pollution, 7. Community wellness and mental health, 8. Occupational health, 9. Local public health and health care system effects, and 10. Emergency response systems.
Recommendations on how to approach the issue highlight the importance of :
1. Explicitly comparing tradeoffs among the economic, strategic, public health, and global climatological implications of energy alternatives under different extraction scenarios over the long term.
According to a Pro Publica investigation, in the three-year period examined, operators pumped oil and gas drilling waste into Class 2 injection wells at pressure levels they knew could fracture rock and lead to leaks more than 1,000 times. In at least 140 cases, companies injected waste illegally or without a permit.
According to ProPublica, “Injection wells have proliferated over the last 60 years, in large part because they are the cheapest, most expedient way to manage hundreds of billions of gallons of industrial waste generated in the U.S. each year. Yet the dangers of injection are well known: In accidents dating back to the 1960s, toxic materials have bubbled up to the surface or escaped, contaminating aquifers that store supplies of drinking water.”
This peer reviewed study by Dr. Theo Colborn details the health risks related to air pollutants generated by natural gas operations. Researchers documented a range of volatile chemicals and correlated them with well site operations. They documented the presence of numbers of chemicals at levels which could have multiple health effects on adults as well as on prenatally exposed children. Many of the chemicals found in the air are endocrine disruptors.
US trade unions are concerned about silica exposures and other health hazards faced by workers in the hydraulic fracking industry. A letter from the AFL-CIO, United Mine Workers and United Steelworkers to top federal safety agencies highlights these concerns.
“If you work in the hydraulic fracturing industry—better known as “fracking”—you may be exposed to high levels of crystalline silica, putting you at risk of developing silicosis, lung cancer and other debilitating diseases” an article on the AFL-CIO website states.
A study by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health in the US shows that workers at fracking operation sites may be exposed to dust with high levels of respirable crystalline silica during hydraulic fracturing. NIOSH collected 116 air samples at 11 different hydraulic fracturing sites in five different states to evaluate worker exposure to crystalline silica. At each of the 11 sites, full-shift personal-breathing-zone (PBZ) exposures to respirable crystalline silica consistently exceeded relevant occupational health criteria.
Inhalation of silica can cause silicosis, an incurable but preventable lung disease.
Academy-award nominated filmmaker Josh Fox will soon release a short film called CJ’s Law that he hopes will shine a light on the workplace safety hazards faced every day by workers in the gas fields.
The legislation at the heart of the film, S3466-2013, also known as CJ’s Law, would establish basic workplace safety protections in the State of New York aimed at protecting the men and women who work in the gas fields.
“Our hope is that this bill will become a template for similar workplace safety legislation in every state in the country,” Fox told NaturalGasWatch.org during a recent interview. “This is a situation of criminal negligence, in my view. These companies are cutting corners and they’re doing at the workers’ expense.”
Fox said he was inspired to make the film after meeting the family of C.J. Bevins at an anti-fracking rally. Bevins was killed on May 1, 2011, while working on a natural gas drilling rig.