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ActivismDirty Energy & FuelHealthNatural GasScience

Fracking In The Age Of Cancer

In 1794 Thomas Paine released “The Age of Reason“, a call to abandon blind loyalty to institutionalized religion.The title of Paine’s work can also be applied to today’s fracking industry — in the age of cancer.

In 2012 alone there were 1,600,000 newly diagnosed cancer discoveries in the United States. Some 1,500 people die of cancer every day, according to the American Cancer Society. It is the second leading cause of death in the United States — accounting for one of every four deaths.  

Is this the time to proceed with the massive introduction of fracking into our society?

One in every three fracking operations in the US use known cancer-causing agents — this according to voluntary reporting by the natural gas industry itself. The three most common carcinogens, according to the industry, are naphthalenebenzyl chloride, and formaldehyde.

In fact, nobody knows exactly which chemicals, or how much, are used in hydraulic fracturing operations. The industry fights hard to keep specific ingredients used in the process secret; there exists no uniform national disclosure law for fracking and, in one of the more extreme travesties of transgenerational justice in world, the process is exempt from most environmental oversight due to the 2004 “Haliburton Loophole” enacted under the administration of President George W. Bush.

Further, the industry has lobbied, successfully, to ban doctors from discussing with their patients the links between symptoms and the chemicals used in fracking. The State of Pennsylvania forbids doctors from warning the community of water and air contaminants linked to fracking chemicals; indeed, The New England Journal of Medicine last year cited the fracking industry as “infringing on the patient-physician relationship”.

No less of a tree-hugging, liberal extremist group as Bloomberg Business News reported that “fracking secrets by the thousands keep US clueless on wells.”

To be fair, the industry does provide — on a voluntary basis — some information about the ingredients it uses to blow up the Earth’s bedrock formations hundreds of feet underground. It probably is quite happy, of course, that nobody ever hears about it — drowned out, certainly, by the noise made from its multi-million dollar TV ad campaigns and political contributions.

Still, a study of the SkyTruthFrackingChemicalDataBase (a voluntary industry self-reporting system) found 11,586 separate instances of recognized carcinogens used in hydraulic fracturing operations during the 20 months the database covers. Three known carcinogens were reported most frequently: naphthalenebenzyl chloride and formaldehyde.

Other known carcinogens found in the fracking process include Toluene, Benzene, Lead, Crystalline Silica and Sulfuric Acid — and many more.

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industry-created pro-fracking logo

Studies which document the health hazards of fracking are increasing. One report, by the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, predicts that ‘hundreds of tons’ of toxic chemicals from the fracking process would ‘likely’ be dispersed into the water supply.

Another recent study from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSHA) found high levels of silica dust used in fracking operations. The study documented dangerously high levels of silica dust at 79% of all fracking sites tested.

Silica dust has plagued miners and construction workers throughout history.  It  causes silcosis — an incurable lung disease. Once contracted, people “can live a few years or a few months“, according to the American Lung Association.

The study led OSHA to issue, in June 2012, an official “Hazard Alert” for workers at fracking sites.

The alert — seen here — provides clear information about the dangers of silicon dust in fracking, yet also reflects a continued hands-off, industry-friendly approach of the federal government towards the fracking industry. The alert offers suggestions for workers and industry to  ‘minimize risks’  (including using alternative chemicals “when possible”) — while making no mention whatsoever of any potential regulatory action to either limit or restrict the use of this highly toxic substance in the first place.

This should come as no surprise, as the report and subsequent hazard alert were both produced in partnership with oil and gas industry leaders and trade associations.

Fracking has been associated with severe water contamination, toxic air pollution and, due to the methane involved, as an important contributor to climate change. In an era of public health so consumed by cancer (annual cost is currently estimated at $200 billion), fracking’s relationship to cancer ought to be given greater public scrutiny in the ongoing debate.

Thomas Paine said “What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly“. Fracking has already obtained significant wealth — and thus, some esteem — all very lightly, while the predictable leukemias, lymphomas, and lung cancers merit barely a whisper beyond a toothless alert penned in part by the very industry in question.

In today’s Age of Cancer, the Age of Reason merits another look.

Authors Note – the author, in addition to journalism, is a surgical technologist on the intra-operative nursing staff at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center New York.




17 comments
  1. btstump

    I think your first and third points should be moved to the bottom and the last point should be moved to the top. It’s not about being green, it’s about saving green. I know at least three people in ATL that bought a Leaf because the tax credits outweigh the cost of driving the EV.

  2. Scorpio800

    “I am paying the $35 per year for my LEAF’s AFV tag, which is the equivalent buying 180 gallons of gas”. Where is this dude buying gas? And you get unlimited access to HOV lanes for the $35 too?

    Bottom line is people are buying this car because it is subsidized. I will buy one primarily because it is subsidized. I like the idea of not buying gas, and think it is good for the environment (obviously not if you include the manufacturing process). That being said, I’m not smoking enough “green” to believe that global warming, or climate change, or whatever the press and Democrats will call it tomorrow, has been definitively as a risk to the earth’s future, that we need to blow up the world economy to mitigate it. The climate has changed continuously for billions of years. Giving politicians control of more pieces of the economy will not change that. Sorry.

    1. JayTee

      By equivalent he means the taxes charged on 180 gallons of gas, not the full cost of the gas.

      But of course people only buy these cars due to the subsidies. If that weren’t the case, we wouldn’t need the subsidies. It’s nonsensical to argue otherwise.

    2. Zachary Shahan

      Just some odd wording. Think the point is that he has driven enough that he’d need 180 gallons of gas otherwise, but has only paid $35 for that electricity.

      Some fine points here, but seems you’ve been misinformed massively about global warming, and also about the manufacturing footprint of a LEAF.

      The benefits of a price on carbon outweigh the costs several times over.

      http://cleantechnica.com/2012/03/02/clean-energy-is-needed-now-climate-scientists-climate-economists-say/

      Ask climate scientists, not people paid by fossil fuel industries.

      http://desmogblog.com/2012/11/15/why-climate-deniers-have-no-credibility-science-one-pie-chart

      Don’t think for a second this is like anything humanity has gone through before:

      http://www.skepticalscience.com/climate-change-little-ice-age-medieval-warm-period.htm

      Or that CO2 isn’t the main cause (by far):

      http://www.skepticalscience.com/empirical-evidence-for-co2-enhanced-greenhouse-effect.htm

      http://www.skepticalscience.com/1500-year-natural-cycle.htm

      Regarding the LEAF & EVs being green:

      http://www.treehugger.com/cars/cleanest-car-us-also-worlds-top-selling-electric-car.html

      http://cleantechnica.com/2012/04/18/electric-vehicles-greenhouse-gas-emissions-save-money/

  3. JayTee

    A. Fossil fuel subsidies are miniscule compared to renewable fuel, and electric car subsidies. Especially per unit of energy.

    B. Record low temperatures aren’t evidence of global warming.

    C. Given the first five bulleted advantages of electrics, why should we need the sixth?

    1. Zachary Shahan

      A- False.

      http://cleantechnica.com/2013/02/07/oil-subsidies-natural-gas-subsidies/

      http://cleantechnica.com/2013/02/07/energy-subsidies-clean-energy-subsidies-fossil-fuel-subsidies/

      B- Don’t recall mention of that in the article, but… last year was the 4th-hottest year on record, and would have been 2nd if not for El Nino.

      http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2014/01/21/3187581/noaa-nasa-2013-temperature/

      http://www.skepticalscience.com/2013-2nd-hottest-non-el-nino-year.html

      But, hey, let’s point to record highs vs lows if that’s what you want to focus on:

      http://www.climatecentral.org/blogs/more-heat-records-compared-to-cold-records/

      C- Well, that was the point of much of the article. Should I copy & paste it down here?

      1. JayTee

        A. The first article you linked indicated that renewables get 0.37 billion per year in subsidies. That’s laughable. Between all of the government backed loan failures, government funded research, and tax breaks, the amount is many times that. Add in 100,000. US electric car sales per year times the $7,500 federal tax credit (not including state subsidies) = $750,000,000.

        Of course I’m ignoring the massive taxes that apply to fossil fuels. What is the federal and state tax on motor fuels? In excess of $0.40 per gallon. Multiply that times the number of gallons we consume.

        Finally, nearly all, if not all, of the subsidies consistently cited regarding the oil industry are actually cost recovery schemes that apply to all industries, including renewable.

        It’s time for you guys to break out of your bubble and read something other than green sites.

        B. That statement was in response to a prior comment.

        C. That’s my point. If electric cars are so great, why should they require subsidies? The bullet points make them sound great and reasonably priced. The rest of the article merely makes the case for subsidies. They must not be so great.

  4. sherrie

    And BTW, thanks, Don; Odds are, you’re at least as busy as the rest of us. So we ALL can take some time to , for example, promote awareness among friends.It takes me literally less than a minute to advocate for a more breathable, less cancerous future !!!!!

  5. sherrie

    And BTW, thanks, Don; Odds are, you’re at least as busy as the rest of us. So we ALL can take some time to , for example, promote awareness among friends.It takes me literally less than a minute to advocate for a more breathable, less cancerous future !!!!!

  6. sherrie

    No, it’s not a good time to go on with the massive introduction of fracking. There will never be such a time.

    Aside from looking @ how I/ we can proactively affect this issue, I find myself yet again reflexively wondering what the ___ is wrong with the socio-emotionally crippled slimes who are just fine with the concept of promoting increased suffering and misery.

    Let’s K E E P O N our LEGISLATORS – though they may be rightfully afraid of Gas/Oil biz, the least we can do is keep making noise. And I’m pretty sure that’s to be considered the least!– b/c doing /saying nothing is not an option!

    Read the links Don has provided if you’re not sure about that..

  7. sherrie

    No, it’s not a good time to go on with the massive introduction of fracking. There will never be such a time.

    Aside from looking @ how I/ we can proactively affect this issue, I find myself yet again reflexively wondering what the ___ is wrong with the socio-emotionally crippled slimes who are just fine with the concept of promoting increased suffering and misery.

    Let’s K E E P O N our LEGISLATORS – though they may be rightfully afraid of Gas/Oil biz, the least we can do is keep making noise. And I’m pretty sure that’s to be considered the least!– b/c doing /saying nothing is not an option!

    Read the links Don has provided if you’re not sure about that..

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