Fracking and health: Our right to know and responsibility to protect

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Does fracking cause breast cancer? Circulating in the news this week is debate about the impact of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) on breast cancer rates.

Though a conclusive link to breast cancer has yet to be established, we do know a few important facts about fracking and our health:

  1. Through fracking, we are pumping enormous quantities of water with unknown mixtures of chemicals—some of them known carcinogens—into fracking wells (1).
  2. Most of that water-and-chemical mix comes back out of the wells and has to be stored and disposed of safely.
  3. Natural gas and other volatile emissions (again, some of which are known carcinogens) from the wells and other equipment and vehicles used in the process cause local air pollution.

The potential exposure of local communities to unknown toxic chemical cocktails through potential contamination of underground water sources, spills from waste storage facilities, unsafe disposal practices and local air pollution illustrates our ongoing failure to consider and protect public health when implementing this new energy extraction technology.

We share the concern of scientists, advocates and the communities that are struggling to understand what fracking means for local health in the absence of vital information.

In order to identify potential health impacts, we need full disclosure on exactly which chemicals are being pumped into fracking wells, and data on which of them are showing up in the air and water in surrounding communities. We need extensive monitoring of fracking sites before and after fracking takes place, and we need to closely examine possible health and ecological impacts.

Moreover, we need this disclosure and monitoring to be consistent across the whole country—not a patchwork of state-by-state legislation that is poorly coordinated and enforced (see the recent NRDC report to find out more (2)). At the very least, we need federal legislation requiring full disclosure of the chemicals used to frack wells, ongoing monitoring of exposures, and a focus on protecting the health of both workers and local residents.

1. “Chemicals Used in Hydraulic Fracturing.” U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce Minority Staff Report, April 2011. http://democrats.energycommerce.house.gov/sites/default/files/documents/Hydraulic%20Fracturing%20Report%204.18.11.pdf. Accessed August 2012.
2. “State Hydraulic Fracturing Disclosure Rules and Enforcement: A Comparison.” Natural Resources Defense Council, July 2012. http://www.nrdc.org/energy/fracking-disclosure.asp. Accessed August 2012.

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