Public Statement: NYS Events Demanding an Independent Health Impact Assessment on Fracking

May 30th, 2012

I am not able to be with you today in Binghamton because one of my children has a medical appointment this afternoon. And that scheduling conflict is also why I am writing these words.


If the carcinogen-dependent form of natural gas extraction known as fracking comes to New York State, many more mothers will be driving their children to doctors’ offices. How many more? We don’t know. The 1,537-page revised, draft, supplemental generic environmental impact statement (SGEIS) that is the planning document for fracking in New York State does not consider the impacts on children’s health. Indeed, the word “children” appears nowhere in the 15-pound SGEIS that requires three reams of paper just to print out.


I am a cancer survivor, a mother of two school-aged children, a public health researcher, and the founder of New Yorkers Against Fracking. Out of all those identities, I hereby express my firm conviction that decision-making on fracking in our state cannot move forward until critically important health studies have been completed. These studies must include a comprehensive human health assessment that focuses on cumulative impacts and children’s health.


The need for a child-focused health assessment here in the third-most populous state in the nation was made even more urgent this week by the publication of a new study from Columbia University’s Center for Children’s Environmental Health. Researchers found that five-year-olds exposed to the air pollutant naphthalene are more likely to display chromosomal abnormalities of a type associated with cancer. We already know that the ambient air in communities located near drilling and fracking operations—including in Dish, Texas—can contain significantly elevated levels of naphthalene.


Here are seven other fundamental questions in need of answers:


1. Will fracking in New York State kill more people than it employs?


2. Do cement and steel well casings provide a permanent, unbreachable barrier between drinking water aquifers and the volatile hydrocarbons—methane, benzene, toluene, etc.—that are trapped in shale bedrock and mobilized during fracking operations? (Dr. Ron Bishop’s research suggests they do not.)


3. What is the public’s potential exposure to radon from piped-in Marcellus gas? (Dr. Marvin Resnikoff’s new study projects from 1,1000 to 30,000 new lung cancer deaths from radon-contaminated gas.


4. What are the projected traffic fatalities from drilling and fracking operations in New York State? (Each well requires more than 1,000 tanker truck trips. As described in a recent New York Times investigation, drivers for the oil and gas industry are not bound by 14-hour workshift rules that provide the legal limits for commercial truckers.)


5. What is the public’s potential exposure to crystalline silica dust, which is ubiquitously used in fracking operations and which, like asbestos, is a known cause of lung cancer? (The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health found that workers’ exposure to respirable silica exceeded occupational limits at 100 percent of all tested fracking sites. If fracking moves forward in New York State, wellheads could be sited within 100 feet of homes and 150 feet of schools.


6. What are the long-term health care costs associated with drilling and fracking-related air pollution—from increased incidence of asthma, stroke, heart attack, cancers, and preterm birth? Once explicated by a comprehensive assessment, the human health impacts potentially associated with natural gas shale production should be subjected to an economic disbenefit analysis—using models already developed to explicate the lifecycle costs of coal.


7. Fracking and drilling operations release into air reproductive toxicants, including those that can trigger miscarriages. If New York green-lights fracking, how many pregnancies will be lost? The answer to this question is both a right-to-life issue and a reproductive rights issue. Surely we can all agree—pro-life and pro-choice—that all mothers have the right to plan a pregnancy and carry it out without other people’s environmental poisons interfering with it.


Finally, I condemn any plan to turn parts of our state into “demonstration zones” for fracking. There are no children and no townships in New York that fracking should be demonstrated upon. The Southern Tier is not a laboratory for an uncontrolled human experiment whose results will only be known decades from now, after the wells are abandoned and the jobs gone.


To be clear: Any plan to frack the disproportionately impoverished Southern Tier is an assault on environmental justice. The child who drinks from an unfiltered rural well in a Broome County valley has just as much right to environmental protection as the child who drinks unfiltered water ferried to Manhattan via aqueducts. You cannot allow fracking to go forward in one child’s watershed while prohibiting it an another.


The only thing about fracking that still requires demonstration is safety. And that burden rests on the shoulders of the gas industry.


In the meantime, we the public need to know the full potential costs of fracking to our health and the health of our children—as is mandated by Executive Order #41. Until those studies are complete, our statewide moratorium must remain—protecting children in every county and every township.


To the unfractured future,


Sandra Steingraber