The Human Cancer Risks Posed by Extreme Fossil Fuel Extraction
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As detailed in the report, fracking has been implicated in the contamination of surface and groundwater supplies across the United States. In Pennsylvania, more than 8,000 gallons of fracking fluid containing a suspected carcinogen spilled into a waterway. In Parker County, Texas, fracked gas wells poisoned a drinking water aquifer with benzene and methane. Likewise, in Pavillion, Wyo., the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found benzene in groundwater and wells. Benzene exposure is strongly associated with childhood leukemia.
Think about that the next time you're asked to donate to the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
Some of the cancer risk from fracking comes from the release of naturally occurring chemicals found deep in the earth. One of them is radium-226, which is as radioactive as its name implies. Of over 240 fracked gas wells in Pennsylvania and West Virginia, almost three-fourths produced wastewater with elevated levels of radiation.
Mull that over the next time you're glancing at the pamphlets on breast cancer in your gynecologist's office and encounter a phrase likeexposure to ionizing radiation increases your risk for breast cancer.
Bromides are another naturally occurring substance unearthed by fracking. The cancer risk here is created when fracking wastewater is run through sewage treatment plants, enters rivers and streams, and then is subsequently chlorinated for drinking water downstream. The bromides combine with organic matter to create brominated trihalomethanes, which are well-described carcinogens linked to both bladder and colon cancer.
Ponder that the next time you prep for a colonoscopy or climb up on the urologist's table for a cystoscopic exam.
Carcinogens can also evaporate from frack wastewater and become air pollutants. When volatile organic chemicals, such as benzene and formaldehyde, combine with diesel exhaust from the heavy machinery and fleets of tanker trucks that haul the water to the well sites, the result is smog—ground-level ozone—which can travel hundreds of miles on prevailing winds. Ozone is not a carcinogen per se, but animal studies show that, because it creates inflammation, it can raise the risk for metastases. Moreover, diesel exhaust is, all by itself, a probable lung carcinogen.
Meditate on that while lying in the MRI machine.
As the new fracking report makes clear, it's extremely difficult to establish links between individual diagnoses and particular chemicals used, released, or created by fracking operations. Nevertheless, when carcinogens are released into the common environment, an ongoing public health and environmental experiment is set in motion, and people are placed in harm's way, often without their consent. Moreover, as the report goes on to say, "many of these problems are inherent to the process and cannot be avoided through regulation."
On this basis, Bulgaria and France have both enacted nationwide bans on fracking. Vigorous public protest contributed to both of these decisions and led the French environment minister to concede, "We have seen the results in the U.S. There are risks for the water tables and these are risks we don't want to take."
As a bladder cancer survivor, I don't want to take these risks either. So here's where cancer patients come in. Even with one hand tied to the chemotherapy drip, we can write letters and make phone calls. All together, we are a mighty coalition with a towering pile of medical bills. We can send a powerful message. Here's an example:
Fracking, a leading contributor to The New Global Water Crisis, threatens to exacerbate The Old Global Cancer Crisis, which is a really expensive problem (see attached invoice from my radiologist). We cancer survivors, who know something about the preciousness and fragility of life, hereby declare that the exchange of life-giving water for death-dealing fossil fuel is unacceptable. It's holding us all hostage.