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Will Fracking Sicken and Kill More New Yorkers Than it Employs?

Here is why we need a comprehensive Health Impact Assessment to determine what high-volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing would mean for the health of New Yorkers.

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New Yorkers Against Fracking supports  the call for a comprehensive HIA, as strictly defined by our national and international health agencies. A comprehensive HIA is the only tool of public health inquiry into the effects of fracking that we will accept. New Yorkers Against Fracking will interpret any ad-hoc approach or claim of HIA equivalency as a sign of political expediency and a compromised process. Given the large-scale land use decisions being entertained and the enormous health, economic and environmental implications of our choices, why would we consider using anything but the best possible tool to protect our communities?

We further request that this comprehensive HIA include a formal risk assessment and an economic analysis of the identified health effects. These elements are sometimes included in a comprehensive HIA but are not mandated. We want them—and New Yorkers deserve them—in this HIA.

It is important to note that the goal of any Health Impact Assessment is not to determine whether a project is approved. By definition, an HIA must precede the rollout of a proposed activity, but its results are not necessarily determinative of the decision to roll it out or not. Hence, whatever the findings of a comprehensive HIA, the decision to permit or prohibit fracking in New York State continues to rest with Governor Cuomo.

Key Elements of a Health Impact Assessment of Hydraulic Fracking in New York State

New Yorkers Against Fracking considers the following elements to be critical, requisite factors for any comprehensive Health Impact Assessment:

1) The SGEIS cannot be finalized until the HIA is finalized.

2) The HIA must be participatory. The public, especially members of targeted communities, must be engaged at every stage of the HIA, including the scoping process.

3) The HIA must be quantitative. In particular, it must apply quantitative techniques to estimate increases in traffic fatalities and injuries, as well as the health effects from noise pollution (linked to cognitive deficits in children; heart attack and increased blood pressure in adults) and air pollution from drill rigs, trucks, condensers, compressors, and flare stacks (linked to heart attack, stroke, cancer, and diabetes among adults; asthma among children; and preterm birth, and reduced birth size among infants.)  Protocols for estimating morbidities and mortalities for all these parameters exist.

4) The HIA must consider health risks from cumulative impacts and across the entire life cycle of shale gas extraction and transport. This includes radon exposure from pipelines and in homes and apartments at the point of combustion. This also includes air emissions and noise pollution from condensers and compressor stations. This also includes exposure to radium in fracking wastewater.

5) The HIA must examine the public health consequences of fracking’s socio-economic impacts. These include projected changes in rates of crime, drunk driving, drug arrests, sexual assault, incidence of teenage pregnancy, and sexually transmitted disease. These include loss of rental housing for low-income families. The HIA must include  sociological datafrom other states where fracking is already occurring and where an influx of out-of-state money and workers have introduced severe disruptions to social support systems.

6) The HIA must examine the public health consequences of altered land use patterns and land disturbance. Loss of farmland decreases access to fresh, local food. Loss of such access is, in turn,  linked to obesity. Land disturbance increases sedimentation of surface streams, which, when subsequently chlorinated for drinking water, increases the burden of exposure to disinfection byproducts. These byproducts include  trihalomethanes, exposure to which is linked to colon and bladder cancers.

7) The HIA must focus closely on infants, children, and pregnant women as vulnerable subpopulations. Fracking chemicals and fracking-related air pollutants include numerous reproductive and  developmental toxicants. These substances, which have no known safe thresholds of exposure, can, when exposure occurs during prenatal or early life, abort pregnancies or sabotage pathways of child development. Consequences may be life-long. Emerging evidence from Pennsylvania indicates that, for mothers residing close to gas wells, drilling and fracking operations are associated with low birthweight infants and lower scores on tests of newborn responsiveness

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