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Shale Gas Industry Puts Workers at Risk in Rush to Frack

August 1, 2012

WORKERS AT RISK Shale Gas Outrage News Bulletin For Immediate Release

August 1, 2012

Contact: Iris Marie Bloom, Protecting Our Waters

(215) 840-6489    protectingourwaters@gmail.com

Poune Saberi, MD, MPH

(267) 978-3934    pounesaberi@yahoo.com

Shale Gas Industry Puts Workers at Risk in Rush to Frack

(Philadelphia) Labor leaders and health professionals, along with a broad coalition of citizen groups committed to halting shale gas development, assert that risks to workers in the shale gas industry, “from stem to stern,” are being overlooked in the rush to frack. This is the first in a series of Bulletins in advance of the Shale Gas Outrage demonstration planned for Philadelphia, 12 – 2 pm on September 20th, 2012 (press conference 10 AM), outside the Convention Center where the Marcellus Shale industry conference will be underway.

Five critical issues are:

  • Silicosis caused by exposure to crystalline silica sand, a”proppant” used in fracking, which is inhaled by workers during mining, transportation and transfer
  • Hydrogen sulfide, a potentially deadly gas which occurs in fracked gas processing operations. Deadly levels have been measured but covered up, and an exemption bars federal oversight.
  • Chemical exposures on the job producing skin lesions, severe headaches, gastrointestinal pain, respiratory distress and other symptoms, with inadequate treatment and reporting
  • A culture of fear discourages workers from asking for protective gear; workers are also actively directed to participate in environmental cover-ups. Because most shale gas jobs are transient, non-union jobs, workers don’t feel safe speaking up.
  • Dangerously explosive methane puts utility workers, residents and rescue responders at risk on the distribution end. Pipeline explosions kill.

1. Silicosis: The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the Office of Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently released a Hazard Alert warning workers about silica presence and exposure during fracking. According to the alert, “Hydraulic fracturing sand contains up to 99% silica. Breathing silica can cause silicosis, […] a lung disease where lung tissue around trapped silica particles reacts, causing inflammation and scarring and reducing the lungs’ ability to take in oxygen.” A photo shows workers surrounded by clouds of the extremely fine, dangerous dust. (3)

2. Hydrogen Sulfide is implicated in the death of Jose Lara, who was told to clean waste water tanks without knowledge of their contents or protective gear. His story, and the gas industry’s deadly cover up, was revealed by Channel 5 in Grand Junction, Colorado last year. (4, 5) From their report:

Before 42-year-old Jose Lara of Rifle died, he recorded a six-hour deposition detailing his work in the natural gas industry.

‘If I would have known the damage those tanks would do to me, I would never have cleaned them,’ an emotional Lara said through a Spanish translator in front of a camera and room full of attorneys.

Dying from pancreatic and liver cancer, Lara described his job with Rain for Rent, a California-based company with a branch in Rifle, Colorado.

His job was to power-wash waste water tanks for natural gas drilling companies. For years, Lara said he was not supplied with a respirator, protective gear, or any warning of what he could be exposed to.

‘The chemicals, the smell was so bad,’  Lara said. ‘Once I got out, I couldn’t stop throwing up. I couldn’t even talk.’

Lara said he had no idea what he was being exposed to.

Lara passed away three months after recording his deposition. OSHA would later cite and fine Rain for Rent with nine violations, six of them serious, for exposing Lara to a cyanide-like gas called hydrogen sulfide.

The same report quotes Ryan Beaver, who worked with the same kinds of tanks and repeatedly found hydrogen sulfide gas levels triple the lethal level and wasn’t allowed to tell anyone. Once, he found levels so high they maxed out his device. He resorted to cracking open his mask to warn nearby workers and inhaled a near-lethal dose himself.

BREATHE ACT: One of the demands made by Protecting Our Waters and allies is to pass the BREATHE Act, to close a loophole in the Clean Air Act which allows hydrogen sulfide gas in oil and gas operations to be unregulated (6).

Congressmen Jared Polis (D-CO), Representatives Maurice Hinchey (D-NY), and Rush Holt (D-NJ) have introduced H.R.1204, the Bringing Reductions to Energy’s Airborne Toxic Health Effects (BREATHE) Act, which would finally subject hydrogen sulfide gas to monitoring and regulation.

3. Chemical exposure on the job appears to be rampant in the shale gas industry. The health impacts do not appear to be prevented, monitored, reported, well understood or adequately treated. “The very first time I spoke in public about fracking, in January 2010, a union organizer from Erie demanded to know why his workers were getting skin lesions,” said Iris Marie Bloom, founder of Protecting Our Waters, which is organizing and hosting Shale Gas Outrage 2012. “Now we have heard of skin lesions, headaches, gastrointestinal pain and respiratory distress from workers and residents alike in counties across Pennsylvania, but workers, and even doctors, are afraid to speak out because this industry is so powerful.”

Poune Saberi, MD, MPH, said, “In Pennsylvania workers have reported contact with chemicals without appropriate protective equipment, inhalation of sand without masks,  and repeated emergency visits for heat stroke, heat exhaustion, yet many of the medical encounters go unreported.”

4. Culture of fear. Workers in the shale gas extraction industry repeatedly report that they are laughed at or threatened when they request protective gear. One such whistleblower speaks out here, describing what he calls a “culture of fear”: (7).

In 2011, Scott Ely of Dimock, PA told the Times Tribune that he was directed by, a Cabot Oil and Gas subsidiary to deceive environmental regulators in Pennsylvania by sampling uncontaminated soil instead of soil that had been contaminated by a Cabot diesel spill. He only reported the incident after he stopped working for Cabot:

“Cabot tried to hide, minimize or ignore at least five diesel spills or their impacts between 2008 and 2009. After an 800-gallon diesel spill in June 2008, a drilling supervisor instructed him to move a reference point hay bale away from a spot where lab tests showed persistently contaminated soil after treatment.

“I said, ‘So you want them to test where there’s no hot dirt?’” he recalled. “He said, ‘That’s the idea.’” (8)

5. Methane kills. “It’s a very, very dangerous fuel once it gets into distribution,” said Stewart Acuff, a longtime labor organizer for utility workers. “Philadelphia lost a 19 year old worker with only six months on the job just 18 months ago because of a natural gas explosion in the distribution line. Every member of his crew had burns all over their bodies, and a firefighter was killed as well. (13). San Bruno lost eight people when an entire block exploded.”

Acuff concluded, “It’s really ridiculous that we’re given this free power — wind and solar — which is abundant, all we have to do is harness it. Instead, we’re blowing up our earth, endangering workers and putting our groundwater at risk.”

For further information  Shale Gas Outrage Communications Committee: Berks Gas Truth, Clean Air Council, Delaware Riverkeeper Network, Food and Water Watch, Marcellus Outreach Butler, Protecting Our Waters.

References: Science and News

1. Michelle Bamberger, Robert E. Oswald “Impacts Of Gas Drilling On Human And Animal Health” New Solutions, Vol. 22(1) 51-77, 2012 Scientific Solutions

2. Lisa M. McKenzie, Roxana Z. Witter, Lee S. Newman, John L. Adgate “Human health risk assessment of air emissions from development of unconventional natural gas resources” Science of the Total Environment,2012 Mar 21

3. OSHA-NIOSH Hazard Alert for Worker Exposure to Silica During Hydraulic Fracturing: Available at: http://www.osha.gov/dts/hazardalerts/hydraulic_frac_hazard_alert.html

4. “Hydrogen Sulfide May Have Killed Gas Drilling Worker,” http://dallasdrilling.wordpress.com/2011/08/15/hydrogen-sulfide-may-have-killed-gas-drilling-worker/

5. “Deadly Gas Cover-up Revealed,” http://www.krextv.com/news/around-the-region/NC5-INVESTIGATION-Deadly-Gas-Cover-Up-Revealed-126869973.html

6. Fact Sheet on the BREATHE Act, created by National Stop the Frack Attack mobilization http://www.stopthefrackattack.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/STFA-BREATHE_Fact-Sheet1.pdf

7. Whistle-blowing truck driver speaks out (Arkansas), describes culture of fear: http://protectingourwaters.wordpress.com/2012/07/18/whistle-blowing-truck-driver-on-law-flouting-fracking-companies/

8. Gas Company Worker Details Spills, Errors http://thetimes-tribune.com/news/gas-company-whistle-blower-details-spills-errors-1.1234817

9. Colburn, T. et al., Natural Gas Operations from a Public Health Perspective. Human and Ecological Risk Assessment: An International Journal. Vol. 17, Iss. 5, 2011

10. Toxicological Profiles are peer-reviewed summaries for more than 300 compounds, published by ATSDR: http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/toxprofiles/index.asp.

11. Fourth National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals http://www.cdc.gov/exposurereport/pdf/FourthReport.pdf

12. Frank AL (2000). “Occupational and Environmental Medicine: Approach to the patient with an occupational or environmental illness.” Primary Care; Clinics in Office Practice 27 (4).

13. Acuff, Stewart, “Dying to Work.” Huffington Post, January 2011 http://www.huffingtonpost.com/stewart-acuff/dying-to-work_b_812520.html

6 Comments
  1. August 1, 2012 4:39 pm

    Thank you for your continued excellent reporting on the issues we face with gas extraction. This article is another valuable tool for us in this fight.

  2. Terry permalink
    August 1, 2012 6:24 pm

    Please keep up the good work. I forward all your messages to everyone I know. I live in Ohio and they are just starting to drill alot of wells.

  3. Iris Marie Bloom permalink
    August 7, 2012 12:20 pm

    Thanks Briget and Terry. Your work is incredibly vital and sharing the word about workers who literally risk all, dealing with an industry which has a high death rate and keeps toxic secrets, is really important. Thanks for telling others and for using this as a resource.

Trackbacks

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