• No Compromise on an Independent Comprehensive Health Impact Assessment  

    Sandra Steingraber, Ph.D. and Dr. Kathleen Nolan
    New Yorkers Against Fracking joins the call for a comprehensive Health Impact Assessment (HIA) to determine what high-volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing would mean for the health of New Yorkers. Designed in accord with national and international health guidelines and inclusive of public participation, a comprehensive HIA is the widely accepted standard for prospective health studies. This HIA should include quantitative and economic analyses and must be led by an independent team of expert researchers untethered to gas industry funding or state agencies led by political appointees. An expedient, ad-hoc “review” that is not carried out with transparency and public input and that does not follow the established protocols of a comprehensive HIA is unacceptable.

This report documents an investigation during February and March 2013 by a concerned General Practitioner, in relation to health complaints by people living in close proximity to coal seam gas development in SW Queensland.

“As Chief Medical Officer of Health, I am therefore providing these recommendations to our government to offer advice on measures that should be put in place to maximize the health benefits and minimize the health risks related to shale gas development if the decision is taken to go ahead with it. In addition, this document is intended to provide information to the many others who have a role to play in protecting the health of the public. “ Dr. Eilish Cleary, Chief Medical Officer of Health, New Brunswick Department of Health, Canada.

Risk assessment can be used in HIAs to direct health risk prevention strategies. Risk management approaches should focus on reducing exposures to emissions during well completions. These preliminary results indicate that health effects resulting from air emissions during unconventional NGD warrant further study. Prospective studies should focus on health effects associated with air pollution.

Environmental concerns surrounding drilling for gas are intense due to expansion of shale gas drilling operations. Controversy surrounding the impact of drilling on air and water quality has pitted industry and lease – holders against individuals and groups concerned with environmental protection and public health. Because animals often are exposed continually to air, soil, and groundwater and have more frequent reproductive cycles, animals can be used as sentinels to monitor impacts to human health. This study involved interviews with animal owners who live near gas drilling operations. The findings illustrate which aspects of the drilling process may lead to health problems and suggest modifications that would lessen but not eliminate impacts. Complete evidence regarding health impacts of gas drilling cannot be obtained due to incomplete testing and disclosure of chemicals, and nondisclosure agreements. Without rigorous scientific studies, the gas drilling boom sweeping the world will remain an uncontrolled health experiment on an enormous scale.

Risk assessment can be used in HIAs to direct health risk prevention strategies. Risk management approaches should focus on reducing exposures to emissions during well completions. These preliminary results indicate that health effects resulting from air emissions during unconventional NGD warrant further study. Prospective studies should focus on health effects associated with air pollution.

Residents of mountaintop mining counties reported significantly more days of poor physical, mental, and activity limitation and poorer self-rated health (P < .01) compared with the other county groupings. Results were generally consistent in separate analyses by gender and age.

CONCLUSIONS: Mountaintop mining areas are associated with the greatest reductions in health-related quality of life even when compared with counties with other forms of coal mining.

These results indicate that many chemicals used during the fracturing and drilling stages of gas operations may have long-term health effects that are not immediately expressed. In addition, an example was provided of waste evaporation pit residuals that contained numerous chemicals on the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) and Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) lists of hazardous substances. The discussion highlights the difficulty of developing effective water quality monitoring programs. To protect public health we recommend full disclosure of the contents of all products, extensive air and water monitoring, coordinated environmental/human health studies, and regulation of fracturing under the U.S. Safe Drinking Water Act.

Efforts to identify alternative sources of energy have focused on extracting natural gas from vast shale deposits. The Marcellus Shale, located in western New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio, is estimated to contain enough natural gas to supply the United States for the next 45 years. New drilling technology—horizontal drilling and high-volume hydraulic fracturing of shale (fracking)—has made gas extraction much more economically feasible. However, this technique poses a threat to the environment and to the public’s health. There is evidence that many of the chemicals used in fracking can damage the lungs, liver, kidneys, blood, and brain. We discuss the controversial technique of fracking and raise the issue of how to balance the need for energy with the protection of the public’s health.