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We are entering the “adolescent” stage of the fracking boom. Fracking is a process wherein energy companies force high-pressure water mixed with chemicals deep into rock and shale to break the stone and release oil and gas. Many fracking wells are built near private homes. And because fracking is often accomplished through horizontal drilling, fracking can occur in proximity to private homes even when the wells are not.
The cocktail of chemicals that drillers use has long been shrouded in secrecy. Even though there are fracking activities in 34 states, very little is publicly known about the chemicals being introduced into the environment and, potentially, into water sources and the air. Unfortunately, it takes time for science and medicine to connect exposures and health consequences. But as time goes on, the evidence continues to grow that fracking activities can have harmful health consequences.
A recent report revealed that the EPA secretly harbored serious concerns that fracking chemicals, including concerns that those chemicals put people at risk of liver, lung, and brain poisoning. Past studies have found that the closer one lives to a fracking well, the higher the risks of cancer, asthma, and low birth-weight babies are.
In addition to the secret chemicals used to obtain gasses from rock and shale, the gasses themselves pose potential health risks. Air near fracking wells can be polluted with carcinogenic hydrocarbons like benzene, ethylbenzene, toluene and xylene. In Pennsylvania, 82% of the drinking water sampled near fracking wells had methane with concentrations six times higher for homes within about a half-mile of natural gas wells than homes farther away. Another Pennsylvania study found living in proximity to fracking activities corresponds to an increased likelihood of being hospitalized for cardiac, neurological, urological, cancer-related and skin-related problems.
The public and scientific community are demanding to learn more about the chemicals used in fracking. And as time goes on, it is appearing increasingly likely that the connection between fracking and harmful health consequences will be impossible to ignore.