The New Love Canal?

Think Local

By Chris Hoffman

(Sherburne, NY – Nov. 2012) On October 9, Grassroots Environmental Education (, a New York-based non-profit organization founded in 2000 to educate the public about the links between common environmental exposures and human health, presented the results of its new study on the health risks of hydrofracking to officials from the NYS DEC and the NYS Department of Health.  Their findings include the following:

Horizontal hydrofracking in the Marcellus Shale will bring to the surface significant amounts of radioactive wastewater.  Average levels of radium in the wastewater from eleven existing vertical gas wells in New York were 1,000 times the EPA’s maximum contaminant level for drinking water.  Exposure to radium can result in anemia, cataracts, cancer (especially bone cancer), and death.

Processing radioactive, chemical-laden wastewater through publicly owned water treatment plants will increase contaminant loads of downstream surface waters.

Radioactive sludge from drilling sites will contaminate landfills.  Spreading radioactive, chemical-laden wastewater on roads (the most common use of radioactive wastewater) will expose drivers, passengers and pedestrians, and contaminate nearby surface water, land and agricultural fields.

Vehicles transporting radioactive chemical-laden waste increase the risk of human exposure and/or contamination of the environment in the event of accidents.

Storage of radioactive, chemical-laden wastewater in closed containment tanks that can corrode and leak over time, and may overflow or rupture if they exceed capacity, will result in groundwater and surface water contamination.

Natural gas from Marcellus shale continuously emits high levels of radon, which mixes with and stays in the gas as it is transported from wellheads.  Whenever natural gas is burned, radon and its decay products are released into indoor air and can be inhaled.  According to the US Geological Survey, radon levels in gas samples from hydrofracking sites in the Marcellus region in PA are eight times higher than the EPA threshold for remediation of radon in indoor air.  Radon exposure is the second-leading cause of lung cancer in the United States and the leading cause of lung cancer among nonsmokers.

Use of silica in hydrofracking operations exposes workers and possibly proximate neighbors to respirable crystalline silica.  Hydraulic fracturing sand is 99% silica.  Breathing silica can cause silicosis, a progressive, incurable lung disease that reduces the lungs’ ability to take in oxygen, which contributes to disability and risk of premature death.  Silica dust is also a known cause of lung cancer and a suspected contributor to autoimmune diseases, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and chronic kidney disease.  The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has found that worker exposure to crystalline silica during fracking operations cannot be adequately mitigated with personal respiratory protection.

On-site diesel-powered machinery contaminates proximate air and contributes to the formation of ground-level ozone (smog) that contaminates regional air. Diesel transport vehicles contaminate air in rural communities.  An average gas well, with multistage fracturing, can require as many as 1,365 truck loads to transport the water, chemicals, sand, and other equipment needed for drilling and fracturing.  This increased traffic creates a risk to air quality as engine exhaust that contains air pollutants such as nitrogen oxides and particulate matter is released into the atmosphere.

Flaring operations contaminate air with hazardous air pollutants.  Flaring (the practice of burning off the initial flow of natural gas from a new well) releases hydrogen sulfide, methane and BETEX chemicals (benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene) into the air.  Because many of these compounds are known to cause cancer and other serious health problems, the EPA has banned flaring, but the new rule will not go into effect until 2015.  The process also releases radon.

All well casings/cement systems (structures for isolating wells from adjacent areas) fail over time.  Such failures provide migration routes for fracking fluids, methane, other hydrocarbons, and return fluids to contaminate water supplies.

Health impacts from hydrofracking will disproportionately burden sensitive populations (children, the elderly, and those with compromised immune systems). Multiple forms of stress are associated with hydrofracking operations, and these have real and significant health consequences. Health impacts related to hydrofracking will significantly increase health care costs in New York as it has in other states. Local medical professionals are ill equipped to recognize or treat symptoms related to exposures to radiation or hazardous chemicals in water or air.

Ten years after the Love Canal incident, David Axelrod, then NYS Health Department Commissioner, stated that Love Canal would long be remembered as a “national symbol of a failure to exercise a sense of concern for future generations.”

Apparently, state officials in favor of hydrofracking have a very short memory.

 Chris Hoffman lives in the village of Sherburne in her 150+ year-old house where she caters to the demands of her four cats, attempts to grow heirloom tomatoes and herbs and reads voraciously. She passionately pursues various avenues with like-minded friends to preserve and protect a sustainable rural lifestyle for everyone in Central New York. 


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