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How Fracking Is a Danger to Your Health

Amid controversy, New York will embark on a health impacts study, but residents living in the gaslands are already speaking out about their experiences.
 
 
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Photo Credit: Sabrina Artel

 
 
 
 

This article was published in collaboration with  GlobalPossibilities.org.

The ethics of medicine are guided by the Hippocratic Oath which commits medical professionals to the principle of health care based on, Primum non nocere -- First do no harm. Health professionals are speaking out on behalf of the public health of their patients as hydraulic fracturing, otherwise known as fracking is introduced into their communities.

Fifty years ago this month Rachel Carson wrote Silent Spring a book that warned of the devastating impacts of pesticides and pollutants on human health. That seminal book led to the formation of the EPA and catalyzed a ban on DDT. Decades after the publication of Carson’s book the alarm has escalated with fracking, a technology that is forging a global gas initiative of extreme extraction. Many of the potential human rights injustices are being ignored by governing agencies, as extreme fossil fuel is being fast tracked locally and internationally.

Environmental scientist and biologist Sandra Steingraber (and founder of New Yorkers Against Fracking) referred to as a contemporary Carson asks this,“Is fracking going to kill more New Yorkers than it employs?” She continues to be outspoken about the human rights issue of the “crime of contamination” as she shares her own story of being a cancer survivor struck with bladder cancer at the age of 20 in her environmentally-polluted town in Illinois where she grew up.

Her story is resonating across New York where it was recently announced that Governor Cuomo will not be making an imminent decision about whether to begin high-volume horizontal fracking in the Southern Tier of New York State, but instead has ordered a health study to be completed. As Mary Esch reported for the AP:

New York's health commissioner and ‘qualified outside experts’ will review the health impacts of shale gas drilling before a moratorium on the ‘fracking’ extraction process is lifted, Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens said Thursday.

Martens said he has rejected calls from health and environmental groups for a health impact analysis by a university school of public health or other independent group, saying such a review is the job of government. Martens said he's asked Health Commissioner Nirav Shah to assess DEC's own health impact analysis.

Although community groups worry that the study won’t be conducted by an outside, independent body, many are relieved that the multitude of health risks associated with the process of fracking has now become central in the NY debate of how to proceed.

Pressure groups are concerned though about connections between the government and industry. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) sued the Cuomo administration for documents that would show “how the state has drafted its plan to permit high volume hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling for shale gas.” In the EWG press release they state, “…the Cuomo administration failed to honor EWG’s request under the state’s Freedom of Information Law for full disclosure of public records showing communications between the governor and six other senior officials and about two-dozen representatives of the oil and natural gas industry.”

While New Yorkers wait for the study, the process of shale gas development is already impacting people, whether by exploration, production, distribution and storage to name only a few of the aspects of this full-scale industrial activity. When one reads the reports, the testimonials, meets people suffering and sees the statistics on the chemicals it becomes clear that the only ethical choice and one that supports social justice is to begin an independent Health Impact Assessment, an HIA that addresses the cumulative health impacts.

 
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