Compendium 2nd Edition Release: Dr. Sandra Steingraber’s Press Remarks

December 11th, 2014

Hi, everyone. My name is Sandra Steingraber. I’m a biologist on the faculty at Ithaca College and one of the co-founders of Concerned Health Professionals of New York.

 

As Dr. Dryszka mentioned, we are here to release two reports today. Both address the impacts of fracking on health and the environment. Both survey the peer-reviewed scientific literature and examine the weight of the evidence contained within the hundreds of studies found there. These two reports were written by two different teams of researchers working independently.

 

The first is a statistical analysis that was prepared by PSE Healthy Energy. (Those letters stand for Physicians, Scientists and Engineers.) This first report presents results numerically and visually. It is nine pages long and comes accompanied by an eight-page appendix of sources. I am not a member of the PSE shop, but, because this report’s authors could not be here today, I’ve been deputized to present its central findings.

 

Let’s start with this bar graph, which shows the number of peer-reviewed publications on the impacts of fracking across time. This is what scientists call an exponential growth curve. You can easily see the relatively recent explosion in knowledge.

 

In 2009, the year that the New York State Department of Conservation released the first draft supplemental environmental impact statement on the impacts of fracking, there were only six papers in the peer-reviewed literature. Those papers contained the first inklings of what we now understand are multiple, intractable, unfixable problems.

 

The number of studies more than doubled between 2010 and 2011 and then doubled again in 2012. And doubled again in 2013.

 

As a point of reference, here—the year 2011—was when the revised, draft supplemental generic environmental impact statement was released. The sum total of these first three bars was the state of the science at that time.

 

As for 2014, this figure is two weeks old and already out of date. When the PSE analysis was finished two weeks ago, there were 390 papers on the impacts of fracking. As of yesterday, there were 414. The rate of publication keeps accelerating. The average rate now stands at one paper per day.

 

The take-away point of this illustration is that our knowledge base is young. Nearly three-quarters of all the scientific papers on the risks and harms of fracking were published in the last 24 months. We are walking in a moving stream of data.

 

Now let’s look at the pie charts.

 

The PSE analysis looked at 12 categories of impacts. Three of the twelve are presented in this report, which focuses on public health. Those three are impacts on air, impacts on water, and impacts on health, as directly measured.

 

I’ll start with air. Of the 22 published, peer-reviewed studies on air emissions from drilling and fracking operations, 21 found evidence for significantly elevated air emissions. And to be clear, the papers in this category do not include those focused on exclusively on methane leaks. The papers here specifically address health-damaging air pollutants, such as benzene, toluene, ground-level ozone, and so on.

 

So, 95 percent of all the studies on fracking’s impact on air quality find a significant impact.

 

As for water: 29 original papers have been published to date. 21 of them find evidence for potential or actual contamination. That’s 72 percent.

 

And as for health: 15 studies have looked for potential risks or adverse health outcomes, and 13 found them. That’s 87 percent.

 

That figure does not include review papers, which include analyses based on the existing data and other sources of relevant information, such as what we know about the chemicals present at fracking sites. If you add review papers that consider health implication together with the original research, 96% of peer-reviewed scientific papers report risks or adverse health impacts.

 

The take-home message here is that the science on fracking is not split. The vast majority of studies show clear and present danger.

 

The significant and overwhelming evidence for harm in the peer-reviewed scientific literature shows the wisdom of the decision to push the pause button on fracking in 2008 by declaring a moratorium, and it shows why that moratorium must continue for another three to five years.

 

 

The second report we are releasing today is a qualitative analysis that presents its results as a written compilation of findings that is organized thematically and chronologically. It’s the second edition of the Compendium of Scientific, Medical, and Media Findings Demonstrating Risks and Harms of Fracking, and it’s 103 pages long with 448 footnotes.

 

All of us here, as part of Concerned Health Professionals of New York, participated in compiling the Compendium, which was first released in July. The updated second edition is 30 percent longer—revealing, as does this bar graph, just how top-heavy our knowledge base is with recent findings. In the five months since July, we’ve added 80 new entries.

 

We cast our nets in a slightly different place than our colleagues at PSE in that we include in our Compendium not only peer-reviewed scientific papers but also government reports and investigative reports by journalists. Here are four trends in the new data of the past five months that we’ve identified.

 

First, growing evidence shows that regulations are simply not capable of preventing harm.

 

Second, drinking water is at risk both from drilling and fracking activities and from the disposal of fracking waste.

 

Third, benzene shows up everywhere fracking goes. Benzene is a potent human carcinogen. It’s been detected in the urine of wellpad workers at levels known to raise risks for leukemia. It’s been found in drinking water wells contaminated by fracking operations, and in ambient air at nearby residences. In some cases, concentrations have far exceeded federal safety standards. Such exposures represent significant public health risks.

 

Fourth, public health problems associated with drilling and fracking are becoming increasingly apparent. Documented indicators variously include increased rates of hospitalization, ambulance calls, emergency room visits, self-reported respiratory and skin problems, motor vehicle fatalities, trauma, drug abuse, infant mortality, congenital heart defects, and low birth weight.

 

And, for further details on the findings of our Compendium, I pass the baton to Dr. Kathleen Nolan.