Philadelphia, PA – PennEnvironment delivered a letter from 85 doctors, nurses, and other health professionals in Pennsylvania to President Obama asserting that fracking should be stopped, given the overwhelming threats to public health. This was part of a nationwide effort by the organization’s federal arm, Environment America to deliver similar letters to decision-makers from more than 1,000 health professionals nationwide.
“Fracking is making people sick—period. Pennsylvania families are already suffering from dangerous air pollution and water contamination caused by dirty drilling,” said Lina Blount, Field Organizer for PennEnvironment. “Pennsylvania doctors and nurses are giving our elected officials a clear prescription to ensure the health of their constituents—stop issuing new permits for fracking until they can ensure these health impacts won’t happen again. The question is are they ready to take the medicine.”
The letters, which include signers from all 50 states, come as public awareness of the health and environmental impacts of fracking is on the rise. In one striking example, last month a peer-reviewed study published by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences found an increased rate of birth defects in babies born to mothers in Colorado who lived in close proximity to multiple oil and gas wells.
Fracking has spread rapidly across Pennsylvania in the last five years, and its effect on public health and the environment is increasingly taking its toll. There is a growing number of documented cases of individuals suffering acute and chronic health effects while living near fracking operations—including nausea, rashes, dizziness, headaches and nose bleeds. Physicians reviewing medical records in Pennsylvania have called these illnesses “the tip of the iceberg” of fracking impacts on health.
“As a nurse and geologist, I am increasingly concerned with the health and environmental impacts of fracking to Pennsylvania communities. In following the principal of 'do no harm', it is crucial that our elected leaders hold industries accountable, putting health first,” said Nina Kaktins, RN of 25 years currently at Chatham University in Pittsburgh.
PennEnvironment released the letter from health professionals today, as recent disasters, including a gas line rupture under the Raritan River and a well-pad explosion in Dillinger, add to the growing list of gas industry disasters. The industry has also committed more than 4,300 environmental violations in Pennsylvania to date.
Fracking operations have contaminated drinking water sources from Pennsylvania to New Mexico. Leaks and spills of fracking fluid, which often contain known carcinogens (e.g. benzene) and endocrine-disrupting chemicals, have polluted rivers and streams. Fracking wastewater—often laced with heavy metals (e.g. lead, arsenic) and radioactive materials (e.g. radon, uranium)—has leached from hundreds of waste pits into groundwater.
Air contaminants released from fracking operations include volatile organic compounds (VOCs); some are carcinogenic, and some damage the liver, kidneys and central nervous system. Researchers at the University of Colorado School of Public Health found that people living within a half-mile of gas fracking wells had a higher excess lifetime risk of developing cancer than people living farther away.
Despite these impacts, fracking is exempt from key provisions of the nation’s leading public health and environmental laws, including the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, the law that regulates hazardous waste.
In the letter delivered today, the health professionals call on President Obama and EPA Administrator McCarthy to close the loopholes that exempt fracking from key provisions of our nation’s bedrock environmental and public health laws. Health professionals from Pennsylvania and nationwide are also calling for immediate action for our elected officials to do everything in their power to halt more gas drilling where it’s already happening.
“Fracking is a public health emergency. To protect Pennsylvanians and communities across the country exposed to fracking, President Obama and EPA administrator McCarthy should close the hazardous waste loopholes that allow fracking to threaten our health in ways that no other industry can.” concluded Blount.
PennEnvironment Research and Policy Center is a state-based, citizen-funded, environmental advocacy organization working towards a cleaner, greener, healthier future.