Rejection of Proposal to Divide New York State: Press Event, Albany

June 20th, 2012

Hi, everyone. My name is Sandra Steingraber. I’m a biologist at Ithaca College.


The place we are standing, the Great Western Staircase, was created by 600 stone carvers who worked by hand for 13 years.


They celebrated the ecology of New York by carving its flowers, animals, and fruits into these banisters.


On the walls, they carved the faces of famous heroes: Abraham Lincoln. Harriet Beecher Stowe. Walt Whitman. Susan B. Anthony. Clara Barton. They also carved the faces of ordinary New Yorkers, and these are called the “Capitol Unknowns.”


So, in this place, heroes and common people are equally exalted.


I can think of no better place to deliver this message. Governor Cuomo, a plan to carve our state into fracking and no-fracking zones creates discrimination in health and environmental protection. It does not square with the vision of equality bequeathed to us by the abolitionists, suffragettes, and Capitol Unknowns who gaze out at us now. It is beneath you.


It’s also reckless. The new study by Physicians, Scientists and Engineers for Safe Energy released last week identifies ten fundamental flaws of the draft environmental impact statement that is the planning document for fracking in New York. Among them: failure to devise a plan for disposing of toxic wastewater; failure to accurately estimate radioactive releases; and failure to assess public health effects.


To that list, let me add another: the jobs provided by shale gas extraction are killing jobs. As documented by the Centers for Disease Control, the fatality rate is seven times that of other industries. Many of those deaths are from traffic accidents on public roadways, and I don’t think that’s because their 18-wheel trucks are all crashing into each other.


Gasfield workers are also exposed to carcinogens, including crystalline silica dust, which causes lung cancer. A study by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health shows that half of all natural gas workers breathe air that exceeds maximum limits for silica dust.


I grew up in a toxic town and was diagnosed with bladder cancer at age 20. Tomorrow at this time, I won’t be standing in a magnificent stairwell. I’ll be in a hospital examination room. I won’t be wearing nice clothes. I’ll be dressed in a backless, blue, cotton gown. I won’t be bathed in sunlight. I’ll be lying the dark, watching flickering ultrasound images. And then I’ll put my feet up in the stirrups for a cystoscopic examination. Because that’s what you do, every few months, for the rest of your life, when you have bladder cancer.


This is my plan: Whatever the medical results turn out to be, I plan to get up. Put my clothes back on. And fight for environmental justice in the Southern Tier.


The young people of Broome, Chenango, Chemung, Tioga, and Steuben counties deserve jobs that do not kill, maim, or poison them. Governor Cuomo, you need a better plan.