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Fracking and Health Spring 2014 Newsletter

SEHN Networker Volume 19 (1) Spring 2014

Dear Friend,

I've tuned my ear to stories about changes in the environmental movement. In the three decades I've been doing this work, things have changed significantly and stayed the same, all at the same time.

What has changed is that we are now in a state of emergency over climate change, even as new extreme energy extraction like deep sea drilling, fracking, tar sands and mountain top removal are shredding the Earth. And yet the arguments for environmentally damaging technologies and practices stay the same. There are three main arguments proponents use for any polluting, disease-inflicting technology: 1) the sick or starving baby, 2) the economy and jobs and 3) patriotism.

Proponents of the pesticide DDT, genetic engineering of seeds, or fracking, make the very same arguments. If we don't have _____(name your technology) then babies will die and there won't be any jobs. But energy issues get the extra argument that you are not being patriotic if you don't let them frack or drill or run a pipeline through your backyard.

They used the same argument during the Manhattan Project when they mined uranium and destroyed the homeland of the Navajo Nation in the desert southwest of the United States. That old tarnished argument is being used in the demands to increase fracking and natural gas exportation to keep Russia in its place. But we know these dirty technologies end up harming communities, especially those that are rural, indigenous, poor or communities of color. We have learned the hard way that every community deserves justice. Every community deserves health. Every community has the right to give or deny consent to actions that alter their future. Does it make sense to poison children in Pennsylvania or Wyoming or Texas to teach Putin a lesson?

I am heartened by the fact that young people are fully engaged in the struggle for environmental justice and a healthy Earth. They are getting arrested at the White House to protest climate change, demanding that their schools divest from polluting fossil fuels, and educating themselves and others on environmental justice.

This issue of the Networker marks some of the changes in the environmental landscape, including emerging science documenting the health effects of fracking, and students examining environmental racism and arguing for the precautionary principle. Stay tuned for future issues of the Networker laying out practical tools for communities to use in defending their health and well-being, and in so doing defending the whole Earth. This, in my book, is true patriotism.

All the best, Carolyn Raffensperger, Executive Director, Science & Environmental Health Network

P.S. Please see a recent ProPublica survey of recent research on potential health implications of fracking.



Fracking and Health

Concerned Health Professionals of New York respond to a study that exposes the endocrine-disrupting properties of several chemicals used in fracking. The larger coalition in New York working to keep their communities safe from fracking's harm, New Yorkers Against Fracking, was co-founded by SEHN Board Member Emeritus Sandra Steingraber.

Dear Friends in Environmental Health,
Attached (at end of article) is a statement released by Concerned Health Professionals of New York in response to the new study by Nagel et al. in Endocrinology. This paper describes the endocrine-disrupting abilities of a dozen commonly used fracking chemicals and also reports estrogen-and androgen-disrupting activity in water samples collected near fracking sites in Colorado.
These include samples taken from the Colorado River itself, whose watershed is intensely drilled and which provides water to 30 million people.
Here in the United States, pregnant women, infants, children, and breast cancer patients live everywhere that drilling and fracking operations occur. No requirement exists for the screening of endocrine-disrupting chemicals used in these operations, nor even for basic disclosure of their identity. Endocrine-disrupting chemicals are biologically persistent, potent in small doses, and capable of exerting time-delayed health effects that are not always immediately apparent after exposure. As Phil Landrigan and others have demonstrated, the developmental effects of population-wide, early life exposures always carry with them high medical costs.
For these and other reasons, it seems to me, the ethical response on the part of the environmental health community is to reissue a call that many have made already: hit the pause button via a national moratorium on high volume, horizontal drilling and fracking and commence a comprehensive Health Impact Assessment with full public participation.
Instead of merely praising the public health triumph of a nationwide ban on leaded paint and leaded gasoline at the beginning of our powerpoint presentations, I am suggesting that we stage a reenactment.
Beyond that, there are other messages for us to ponder:
  • Given these findings in Colorado, what are the possible public health effects of opening for fracking the Delaware River basin, which is a source of drinking water for at least 15 million people?
  • What are the implications of intensive drilling in the Susquehanna River basin, which provides 45 percent of the freshwater to the Chesapeake Bay area?
  • What are the implications of opening up for drilling and fracking the heavy forested public lands near Washington DC?
  • And what are our responsibilities in both documenting human harm and in working to prevent it?
This study also makes it clear for me that endocrine disruption is not solely a public health issue relevant to the materials economy. It is also part of the struggle to reform our energy system. Indeed the two are inextricably intertwined: it is the shale gas boom-with all the EDC's involved in the extraction process-that is now driving the resurgent boom in plastics and farm chemicals manufacturing-with all the EDC's so created. This cheap abundance of petrochemicals undermines our collective efforts to bring about meaningful toxic chemical reform and investments in green chemistry and sustainable agriculture, while the cheap abundance of natural gas undermines efforts to decarbonize our energy system and address climate change in meaningful ways.
You will also find our statement along with a searchable archive of information on the health effects of shale gas development The response can be viewed here:
Sandra Steingraber, PhD Distinguished Scholar in Residence Department of Environmental Studies and Sciences Ithaca College Co-founder, Concerned Health Professionals of New York, New Yorkers Against Fracking.
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Special Issue on Fracking


SEHN's allies at New Solutions: A Journal of Environmental and Occupational Health Policy released a special issue on fracking, with free content. The issue covers science, politics, public health, and more. To read this issue, please click here:New Solutions on Fracking



Fracking and Food


Our friends at Food Tank, the food think tank, prepared this foundational analysis of how fracking can affect our food supply. Click here to read the report:


Engaged Student Scholarship


We're delighted to share some new research using GIS systems to investigate the correlation between geographic equity and hazardous environmental exposure in Indiana.

This environmental study by Primack, Clark and Hood shows that... " poorer areas are at a higher risk from hazardous waste and that this is especially for minority groups while whites are at a lower risk (Figure 4). This supports the well established literature on environmental racism that exists and serves to show that this is present in Indiana and that something needs to be done."

One of the reasons that we are pleased to publish this research is that the authors are students. College and high school students are educating themselves, organizing, and speaking up about their environment and their future in unprecedented ways. Click here to read this research:


Happy Spring!!
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